Home Latest News South Carolina GOP voters choose between presidential candidates Nikki Haley and Donald Trump

South Carolina GOP voters choose between presidential candidates Nikki Haley and Donald Trump

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South Carolina GOP voters choose between presidential candidates Nikki Haley and Donald Trump

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South Carolina voters on Saturday are casting their ballots, deciding between former President Donald Trump or their former governor, Nikki Haley.

Polls close at 7 p.m. ET after which votes will be counted and the winner announced. Haley intends to speak once the winner is declared. Trump is holding a watch party in South Carolina where he is also likely to speak.

South Carolina holds an open primary, meaning that voters of any party can vote in the Republican primary as long as they have not already voted in the Democratic primary, which President Joe Biden won on Feb. 3.

As South Carolinians head to the polls, Trump has a roughly 30-point lead against Haley, according to a February survey from USA Today and Suffolk University, disintegrating any hopes of her home-court advantage.

Would Haley’s loss end the primary?

Haley vowed on Tuesday to stay in the race until at least Super Tuesday on March 5, no matter the results in South Carolina. Her campaign confirmed that she does have the funding to keep her afloat after a record fundraising month in January.

“We have the resources to go the distance,” a spokesperson for Haley’s campaign told CNBC on Tuesday.

Republican candidates need 1,215 delegates to secure the nomination. Trump currently has 63 to Haley’s 17. As long as Haley does not drop out, the Republican primary will continue to be a two-person race, much to Trump’s dismay.

But even with her financing and resolve, Haley’s campaign faces a steep path forward.

Haley’s campaign has been tempering expectations over the past week, arguing that she does not need to win South Carolina to garner momentum for future primaries. The former U.N. ambassador has yet to win a race this primary season, though she managed to pull out a slimmer loss against Trump in New Hampshire due to the state’s wide population of undeclared voters.

In South Carolina, Haley has urged anyone who did not vote in the state’s Democratic primary to show up for her on Saturday, again looking to draw on undecided Democrats and Independents. But South Carolina’s Democratic electorate is largely made up of Black voters, who Haley has lagged with.

Trump’s allies have been working to gain ground with South Carolina’s Black voters from Biden, though Trump’s most recent racist comments could detract from that effort.

On Friday, speaking at a Black Conservative Federation gala, Trump said that he thinks he has won support from Black voters because he has been discriminated against in the legal system, has been indicted on criminal charges and because he has a mugshot.

“It’s disgusting. But that’s what happens when he goes off the teleprompter,” Haley said in response to Trump’s remarks.

Still, Trump has a strong foundation in South Carolina. Along with his polling lead, Trump has the endorsements of local South Carolina GOP chapters, South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster, South Carolina Rep. Nancy Mace and other lawmakers in the state. Trump also has a healthy track record in the Palmetto State, having won the GOP primary in 2016 and taking 55% of the votes in 2020 against Joe Biden.

Where are the candidates on South Carolina’s top issues?

South Carolinians have immigration and the economy top of mind as they cast their ballots, mirroring sentiments nationwide. According to the February USA Today/Suffolk University poll, 42% of likely South Carolina GOP voters view immigration as the most important issue, while 26% prioritize the economy.

Trump has made immigration a central pillar of his campaign so far, pledging to revive his immigration bans and execute militarized mass deportations that he intends to make far more aggressive than his first term in the White House.

“The first thing, the most urgent action we will take is the sealing of the border, stopping the invasion,” Trump said Saturday afternoon at the Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC. “Send Joe Biden’s illegal aliens back home, we’ll do all of those things and we’re gonna have to do it fast.”

Despite his extreme anti-immigrant rhetoric and approach to border security, Trump simultaneously worked behind the scenes to tank a bipartisan congressional border deal that would have provided $20 billion of border funding.

Trump reportedly told Republican lawmakers to torpedo the bill so that he could continue lambasting Biden and Haley for their immigration stances on the campaign trail.

Haley criticized Trump for derailing the bill: “Donald Trump, the last thing he needs to do is tell them to wait to pass the border deal until the election.”

Haley herself has a hardline immigration record, despite the Trump campaign’s attempts to paint her as weak on the issue. She said she would defund sanctuary cities, close the border and deport unauthorized immigrants.

Under the Biden administration, South Carolina’s economy has improved.

Unemployment in the state is at 3%, down from 3.3% a year ago and under the national average of 3.7%. The state also was a major beneficiary of Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), which poured investment into electric vehicles that has created more than 12,000 jobs so far. Inflation in the state is slowly cooling at 4.3% compared to the national rate of 3.1%.

However, both Trump and Haley have repeatedly slammed Biden’s economy. Their economic agendas both tend to include similar rhetoric of cracking down on trade with China and cutting taxes.

Haley’s economic platform, dubbed the Freedom Plan, is centered around tax breaks for the middle class, boosting small businesses and eliminating Biden’s $500 billion investment in clean energy projects, which South Carolina has benefited from.

Trump would also roll back Biden’s IRA, reinstate his first-term tax cuts, which for the most part benefited the wealthy, and impose major tax increases on foreign goods, specifically to restrict trade with China. During his first term, Trump’s China tariffs nearly started a trade war, which disrupted the global economy and drove prices higher for consumers.

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