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Trump wins South Carolina, beats Haley in her home state

Former US president Donald Trump easily defeated Nikki Haley in South Carolina’s Republican contest, extending his winning streak as he marches toward a third consecutive presidential nomination and a rematch with President Joe Biden.

Mr Trump had been widely favoured to win the Southern state, despite his litany of criminal charges and Ms Haley’s status as a native of South Carolina who won two terms as governor.

The big win bolstered calls from Mr Trump’s allies that Ms Haley, his last remaining challenger, should drop out of the race.

But Ms Haley, who outperformed expectations based on opinion polls, defiantly insisted she would fight on at least through “Super Tuesday” on 5 March, when Republicans in 15 states and one US territory will cast ballots.

Mr Trump won with 59.8% support against 39.5% for Ms Haley with 99% of the expected vote tallied, according to Edison Research.

Statewide opinion polls before yesterday had given Mr Trump an average lead of 27.6 percentage points, according to the tracking website 538.

“Forty percent is not some tiny group,” Ms Haley said of her vote share. “There are huge numbers of voters in our Republican primaries who are saying they want an alternative.”

Nikki Haley says she will fight on to ‘Super Tuesday’

Mr Trump has dominated all five Republican primary contests so far – in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, the US Virgin Islands and now South Carolina – leaving Ms Haley with no evident path to the Republican nomination.

Mr Trump gave his victory speech in Columbia, the state capital, minutes after the polls closed and did not mention Ms Haley, claiming his party’s mantle as he looked ahead to November’s general election.

“I have never seen the Republican Party so unified as it is right now,” he said.

In recent days Ms Haley had notably sharpened her attacks on Mr Trump, questioning his mental acuity and warning voters he would lose the general election to Mr Biden.

But there is scant evidence that a majority of Republican voters is interested in any standard-bearer except Mr Trump.

Immigration, which Mr Trump has made a focus of his campaign, was the number one issue for voters yesterday, according to an Edison exit poll. Some 39% cited that issue, above the 33% who said the economy was their top concern.

Approximately 84% of voters said the economy is not so good or poor, highlighting a major potential weakness for Mr Biden in November’s general election.

Once again, however, exit polls also pointed to Mr Trump’s own vulnerabilities. Nearly one-third of voters said he would be unfit to serve as president if he were convicted of a crime.

Mr Trump’s first criminal trial is scheduled to begin on 25 March in New York City. He is charged with falsifying business records to conceal hush money payments made to adult actress Stormy Daniels during the 2016 campaign.

He faces three other sets of charges, including a federal indictment alleging he conspired to reverse Mr Biden’s election victory in 2020. Mr Trump has pleaded not guilty in every case and claimed, with no evidence, that the charges stem from a Democratic conspiracy to derail his campaign.

“A 20-point loss is better than a 30-point loss, but it’s still another blowout defeat,” Adolphus Belk, a political science professor at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, South Carolina, said of the South Carolina contest.

“That said, Haley performed strongly with the sorts of voters a GOP presidential candidate needs to win in November: moderates and independents most especially.”

Both Mr Trump and Mr Biden have already begun looking ahead to November, with the president characterising Mr Trump as a mortal threat to US democracy.

Before flying to South Carolina to watch primary returns, Mr Trump addressed a gathering of conservative activists near Washington in a 90-minute speech that painted a dark picture of a declining US under Mr Biden.

Donald Trump addressed a rally in Maryland before heading to South Carolina

He said if he beats Mr Biden in the 5 November general election it will represent a “judgement day” for the US and “my ultimate and absolute revenge.”

South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem and former presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy emerged as favourites for Mr Trump’s vice presidential pick, according to a poll of activists at the conservative conference. They each received 15% support.

Ms Haley, whose foreign policy credentials are at the centre of her campaign, has focused in recent days on Mr Trump’s stance toward Russia following the death of Alexei Navalny, the country’s main opposition leader.

She criticised Mr Trump for waiting days before commenting on Mr Navalny’s death and then for failing to blame Russian President Vladimir Putin. She also condemned Mr Trump’s recent remarks that he would not defend NATO allies from a Russian attack if he felt they had not spent enough on defence.

Ms Haley had hoped that South Carolina’s “open” primary, which allows any registered voter to cast a ballot, would lead to turnout among independents and even some Democrats determined to stop Mr Trump.

But Edison exit poll data showed only 21% of voters considered themselves moderate or liberal, only slightly higher than the 19% who said the same in the party’s 2016 primary.


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