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Trump vows to defeat Haley in South Carolina primary

Donald Trump and Nikki Haley will go head-to-head in South Carolina’s Republican primary, with the former president expected to defeat Ms Haley in her home state as he closes in on the nomination.

Ms Haley was a popular governor of the Palmetto State for six years before becoming Mr Trump’s UN ambassador in 2017, but her old boss is backed by the party establishment and nearly two-thirds of voters in opinion polling.

The candidates largely swapped only glancing criticisms in the early nominating contests in Iowa and New Hampshire in January, but their rhetoric has intensified since the primary narrowed into a two-horse race.

“Tomorrow you will cast one of the most important votes of your entire life and, honestly, we’re not very worried about tomorrow,” Mr Trump told an election-eve rally in the city of Rock Hill.

Seeking to demonstrate that he was already looking beyond Ms Haley, he vowed to show President Joe Biden and the Democrats “that we are coming like a freight train in November,” when the presidential election will be held.

South Carolinians do not have to indicate party allegiance when they register to vote and are allowed to have their say in either the Democratic or the Republican primary.

Ms Haley, a more traditional conservative who espouses limited government and a muscular foreign policy, will rely on votes from moderates, although the tactic did little for her as she lost to Mr Trump in each of the first four nominating contests.

Legal fees

Ms Haley has sought to focus on the ‘chaos’ that she says follows Mr Trump

Voters interviewed by AFP in the South Carolina capital, Columbia, on Thursday were complimentary about both candidates, although one voter felt Ms Haley was not ready for the highest office and another criticised Mr Trump for being “divisive.”

“He’ll go after people that don’t agree with him. Being a Christian, I don’t feel good about that,” said financial advisor and Ms Haley voter David Gilliam, 55.

The primary comes amid signs that the frontrunner, who faces four criminal indictments, is tightening his hold over the party as he pushes for a reshuffle to install family members and allies at the top of the Republican National Committee (RNC).

Mr Trump’s daughter-in-law Lara Trump has promised to spend “every single penny” of party funds on his presidential campaign should she become an RNC co-chair and has argued that paying his legal bills is of “big interest” to Republican voters.

Ms Haley has sought to focus on the “chaos” that she says follows Mr Trump, pointing to $8 million (€7 million) in campaign donations he spent on legal fees in January and predicting that his total outlay on court cases this year could top $100 million (€92 million).

IVF ruling

“He has turned his presidential campaign into a legal defence slush fund and will not have the resources or focus to go up against Joe Biden and the Democrats,” Ms Haley’s national spokeswoman Olivia Perez-Cubas said.

In common with Democrats, Ms Haley has also been criticising Mr Trump over his outlook on the international stage and oft-voiced admiration for the leaders of the world’s most authoritarian regimes.

She has blasted Mr Trump’s reaction to the death of Russian dissident Alexei Navalny, in which he avoided criticism of President Vladimir Putin, and his threat to encourage Moscow to attack NATO nations that had not met their financial obligations.

But Ms Haley’s central argument for months has been that polling shows her performing better than Mr Trump in hypothetical matchups with Mr Biden.

She has vowed to compete in the Republican primary through Super Tuesday, when multiple states vote on 5 March, regardless of what happens in South Carolina today.

Reproductive rights are likely to figure prominently in the election, with Mr Trump avoiding taking a clear position on proposals for a nationwide abortion ban after appointing three Supreme Court justices who helped gut federal protections.

A wrinkle was added when Alabama’s supreme court ruled last week that frozen embryos can be considered children, signaling a new front in the debate and posing questions for in vitro fertilization (IVF) clinics.

Mr Trump, keenly aware the Alabama decision risks alienating moderate and women voters, voiced support yesterday for preserving access to IVF programs, calling on the state’s legislature to “act quickly to find an immediate solution” to ensure it remained available.

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