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Decision 2024

Trump Country

Once all counties had reported, Trump had 59.8% of the votes to Haley’s 39.5%, according to unofficial results from state election officials.


COLUMBIA — Former President Donald Trump won an expected blowout victory over former S.C. governor Nikki Haley Saturday in the South Carolina Republican presidential primary.

The Associated Press called the race at 7 p.m. with zero percent of the precincts reporting.

Once all counties had reported, Trump had 59.8% of the votes to Haley’s 39.5%, according to unofficial results from state election officials.

“This is a little sooner than we anticipated” and “an even bigger win than we anticipated,” Trump said as he took the stage to Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA.” He told supporters who had been gathering at the fairgrounds in Columbia all day, “You can celebrate for about 15 minutes and then we have to get back to work.”

The preliminary results actually appear closer than predicted. A South Carolina poll published 10 days ahead of the primary by Winthrop University put voter support for Haley at 29%, compared to 65% for Trump.

Trump was joined on stage by S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster and U.S. Sens. Tim Scott and Lindsey Graham. Graham, who spoke briefly, was booed by the crowd while a Trump mention of Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz as “a very noncontroversial person” brought cheers and chants of “Gaetz, Gaetz, Gaetz.”

Trump was on stage for about 30 minutes and stuck to his usual talking points — the situation on the border is “the worst it’s ever been” and the country “is a failing nation.” He predicted that Michigan autoworkers would support him in that state’s primary on Tuesday.

He added “Nov. 5 – it’s going to be the most important date, perhaps, in the history of our country” before thanking his supporters and telling them to go home and get some rest because “we have a lot of work ahead of us.”

Haley waited until about 8:30 p.m. to come out to address about 400 supporters at her watch party in the ballroom of a downtown Charleston hotel.

S.C. GOP Party Chairman Drew McKissick said earlier Saturday that he did not expect many Democrats to cross over and vote for Haley. “Self identified Democratic participation in our presidential primary has been going down over time, and that’s largely because most of those folks were conservative Democrats who now have joined the Republican party,” he said.

McKissick added that he expected the state would set voting records on Saturday. According to the S.C. Election Commission, 205,099 people voted early in the primary and 12,018 people had cast absentee ballots ahead of Saturday.

The former president also made international news during his visits to South Carolina, including saying he told the head of a NATO ally he would encourage Russia to “do whatever the hell they want” if they did not meet defense spending goals.  

Messages like that rang true for Andrew Middleton, a 40-year-old IT network engineer in Charleston, who said he wants a president who will keep the U.S. out of foreign conflicts and focus on a domestic agenda. Middleton, who grew up in rural Illinois but has lived in the Charleston area for 12 years now, pushed his young son in a stroller as he walked out of West Ashley High School in the Lowcountry after casting his ballot for Trump.

Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations during Trump’s administration, attacked the former president over his comments, and President Joe Biden said the remarks were “shameful” and “dangerous.”

Trump’s comments, however, did not lessen enthusiasm for the former president at the polls.

“If anybody can get things straightened out quickly, it’ll be him,” said Charleston-area voter Amy Coffey.

Saturday marked the first time the 48-year-old office administrator had cast a ballot in a primary. She said the current presidential race felt “crucial” to her and Malcolm Coffey, a 49-year-old electrician, prompting them to come out.

Both cast ballots for Trump, citing border security as the top issue concerning them.

“It’s not that I don’t like Nikki Haley,” Amy Coffey said. “ I just don’t think now is the perfect time to bring someone new in. She’ll have her time.”

Haley has been careful to manage expectations for her results in South Carolina, saying victory would be “making sure it looks close” rather than winning outright. 

“All I can do is my part; I don’t know if it will make a difference or not,” said Colleen Geis, a 48-year-old medical care coordinator living in the Charleston area who voted for the perceived long-shot Haley.

While Haley cast her own ballot on gated Kiawah Island, Geis was among a steady stream of James Island residents who stepped into the polling place at Harbor View Elementary.

Some living in the surrounding neighborhood used the opportunity to walk their dogs as they fulfilled their civic duty.

“Anybody but Trump,” said Lauren May, a 32-year-old doctor’s assistant, after casting her vote.

Haley also earned the support of Mark Leon. The 51-year-old marketing consultant said 2016 was a difficult year. It was the first time he saw people become emotional and angry over politics. It was the first time he saw lifelong friendships end based on who they voted for.

“It’s only going to get worse this year because it’s the same players,” Leon said of a Trump-Biden faceoff.

He felt if Haley were chosen as the Republican nominee, she would bring more empathy to the race rather than instantly polarizing an issue.

Haley is the last major candidate opposing Trump, but two extreme long-shot candidates remain in the running — Pastor Ryan Binkley of Texas and veteran Air Force combat pilot David Stuckenberg of Florida. 

Three other candidates, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, all dropped out of the race after making it onto the South Carolina ballot. 


Abraham Kenmore is a reporter covering elections, health care and more. He joins the SC Daily Gazette from The Augusta Chronicle, where he reported on Georgia legislators, military and housing issues.


Jessica Holdman writes about the economy, workforce and higher education. Before joining the SC Daily Gazette, she was a business reporter for The Post and Courier.