Donald Trump scores big win in South Carolina Republican primary

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Donald Trump has won the South Carolina Republican primary, defeating Nikki Haley in her home state and moving another step closer to winning his party’s nomination for president.

The Associated Press called the race for Trump the same minute the polls closed in South Carolina on Saturday evening. By midnight Eastern Standard Time, with more than 90 per cent of the votes counted, Trump held 60 per cent and Haley was on 39 per cent.

“This is a fantastic evening, it’s an early evening,” Trump said in his victory speech in Columbia, South Carolina, shortly after the polls closed. “On November 5, we’re going to look at Joe Biden, we’re going to look him straight in the eye — he’s destroying our country — and we’re going to say ‘Joe you’re fired! Get out Joe!”

Trump’s win in South Carolina came after convincing victories in the Iowa caucuses, New Hampshire primary and Nevada caucuses last month. It raised fresh questions about how much longer Haley will stay in the race.

Trump insisted the Republican party was firmly behind him on Saturday night, telling supporters: “I have never seen the Republican party so unified as it is right now.”

But Haley vowed to stay in the race, arguing that a large share of Republicans do not want the former president to be their nominee for the White House.

“There are huge numbers of voters in our Republican primaries who are saying they want an alternative,” Haley told supporters at her own election night party in Charleston. “I’m a woman of my word. I’m not giving up this fight when a majority of Americans disapprove of both Donald Trump and Joe Biden.”

Haley has spent heavily on campaign advertising, tapping a war chest filled by millions of dollars in donations from Wall Street and other deep-pocketed donors who have warmed to her Reaganite conservatism and think she is more likely than Trump to defeat President Joe Biden in a head-to-head contest in November. 

A recent Marquette Law School poll found Trump and Biden virtually tied with voters nationwide, while Haley led Biden in a hypothetical general election match-up by 18 points.

Haley’s campaign is planning a new advertising blitz in the coming days across the many states that hold their primaries on Super Tuesday, on March 5. Haley spent about $11.4mn on ads in her home state this month, according to AdImpact data — over $10mn more than Trump.

“The math is challenging” for Haley to win the nomination, Betsy Ankney, Haley’s campaign manager, said on Friday. “But this has never just been about who can win a Republican primary. This battle is about who can win in November.” 

To secure the Republican presidential nomination, a candidate must win an estimated 1,215 delegates from across the country before the official vote confirming the nomination at the party’s national convention in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in July.  

Trump already has 63 delegates thanks to his earlier victories in the primary race, and Haley has 17. Fifty were up for grabs in South Carolina. 

Chris LaCivita and Susie Wiles, senior advisers to Trump’s 2024 campaign, issued a memo this week insisting “the end is near” for Haley. Citing public and private polling data, LaCivita and Wiles said Trump was on course to rack up enough delegates to win the Republican nomination by mid-March.

On Saturday, Trump spokesperson Steven Cheung said Haley was “no longer living in reality”. He added: “The primary ends tonight and it is time to turn to the general election.”

Additional reporting by Oliver Roeder in New York

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