Fri. Jul 19th, 2024

Here’s what to watch for

By 37ci3 Feb24,2024

LEXINGTON, S.C. — Twenty years ago, Nikki Haley ran a grassroots campaign to unseat a longtime incumbent, a force in party politics that launched her political career and set the stage for the governorship six years later.

But this time, voters in the district and county she represents as a state legislator don’t think she’s about to cause another upset when she takes on Donald Trump on Saturday.

Dave Mauldin, a Lexington voter who voted for Haley “just to try and screw it up” [Trump] it’s over,” he said, adding that he expected the “Trump wave to be like a tsunami.”

Indeed, on Monday, the local GOP came out and confirmed Trump is days away from the state’s Republican primary.

Lexington County GOP Chairman Mark Weber said, “Lexington County Republicans have made it clear that they support President Trump in the Southern Primary and want to make their voices heard.” said in the statement. “Our party and our committees are proactive in addressing today’s issues, and they have decided that we must unite behind Donald J. Trump to end the destruction of the Biden administration as soon as possible.”

Clearly, a lot has changed here in the two decades since Haley took over from state Rep. Larry Coon. The changes reflect Trump’s takeover of the GOP in the state and much of the country.

In 2016, Trump won the more crowded Lexington district by nearly 6 points over Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. This time around, it will be hard for Haley to come close to that margin against Trump — even as not only the state’s but the county’s favorite girl.

“He has old friends in Lexington County and they will remember the results he delivered to them in the statehouse as both a legislator and governor,” said Rob Godfrey, Republican strategist and former deputy chief of staff. He told Haley when he was governor. “But like many other deeply conservative parts of the state, it faces a formidable challenge of trying to poach voters who are comfortable voting for Donald Trump for president.”

One of the fastest growing areas in the state, Lexington County has become one of the biggest GOP strongholds in the state, regularly providing Republican candidates with large vote totals and margins of victory; In 2020, Trump beat Joe Biden by 20 points here.

It became a district to watch in the early nights – this time doubly so with its close ties to Haley.

“This is an absolutely important state that has become even more important over the last few election cycles,” Godfrey said, adding, “Lexington should be part of a group of bellwether states across the state.”

Haley’s roots in the area are clear. He won his last statewide bid in the 2014 general election for governor in Lexington County by 32 points, and many of his supporters, including state Rep. Nathan Ballent, have ties to the area.

“I expect him to have a decent showing and a good showing,” Balentine said. “I don’t expect him to win. But by the same token, if I woke up tomorrow and he won this county, it wouldn’t be a complete surprise.

Others were less optimistic about his chances.

Moving forward, Mauldin saw Trump’s literal death as Haley’s only path to the nomination.

“Well, you bought a cheeseburger from Heaven Theory,” he said. “[And] if something happens to one of these tests.”

In addition to how Lexington County votes, here are some other things to watch on primary night:


Polls show Trump leading the state by more than 20 percentage points, including a A USA Today/Suffolk University poll has been released On Tuesday, Trump had a 28-point lead over Haley Winthrop University survey It showed Trump winning by 36 points.

But there’s a wild card in play that could cut those edges: crossover voters.

Haley has allies targeted left-leaning voters Democrats, who did not participate in the primary election on February 3, appealed to vote for Haley on Saturday. The latest mail obtained by NBC News was sent read a Democratic voter who did not vote in the party’s presidential primary earlier this month: “Your vote can make a difference.”

“Please get involved and make your voice heard by voting for Nikki Haley,” said pro-Haley super PAC Stand for America Inc. The letter sent by continued.

What’s more, the Democratic primary saw relatively low voter turnout, with just 130,000 voters casting ballots — leaving plenty of voters at the table for Saturday’s GOP primary. This primary is open, and registered voters are allowed to participate if they don’t vote in the Democratic contest this month.

And Trump Won a landslide victory in New Hampshire, the margins were as close as they got, as Haley managed to win over self-identified moderate voters by more than 50 points, although Trump beat her with conservatives. While it’s actually implausible that a large number of crossover voters could cut into Trump’s 30-point lead, they could make the race a little more interesting.

Former South Carolina Republican Party Chairman Katon Dawson, a Haley supporter, said Trump’s leadership could “undermine” the 400,000 new people who have moved to South Carolina since the last contested GOP primary in 2016.

Little is known about how this group voted in South Carolina, which could potentially be a boost for Haley.

“That’s what I hang my hat on,” Dawson said. “It could shake the 30-point lead that Trump keeps talking about.”

Look at the beach

In addition to Lexington County, pay close attention to results along the coastline from Hilton Head Island to Myrtle Beach north, along with Charleston and its surrounding communities.

These areas have the highest concentration of transplant voters and include South Carolina’s most purple congressional district — represented by Rep. Nancy Mace of RSC, who has campaigned strongly for Trump in recent weeks.

If Haley is going to edge Trump, she’ll need to do particularly well in the Charleston area, which stretches south to Beaufort and Hilton Head Island. Meanwhile, Horry County, home to Myrtle Beach, has been a statewide stronghold for Trump since his first run in 2016.

If Trump overperforms here, it would signal new strength among voters who are more in the middle.

Electoral activity

The dynamics of Saturday’s primary are much different than in 2016, with Trump holding a commanding lead not just in South Carolina, but in most polling states. But what could this mean for voter turnout?

In 2020, the South Carolina GOP canceled the primary to help re-elect Trump, and in 2016, about 740,000 people turned out to vote in the GOP nomination contest.

“The number of 2016 was big. … If the turnout goes to about 850,000 to 900,000, that would be incredible,” said Alex Stroman, former executive director of the South Carolina GOP.

With a contested primary in name only, turnout this year will be a key barometer for several things, including whether Haley’s efforts to court Democrats are successful.

“Could the 2024 presidential race go uphill with a former president facing off against a popular former governor of the state? [2016 levels]?” he said. “I don’t think it’s going to get there, but if it does, you’ve got to think a significant portion of it is Democrats.”

He said low voter turnout would mean Democrats would miss out in significant numbers, and there’s also the potential that some Trump voters could stay home because he’s the heavy favorite.

“Do Trump voters think he’s that high? [they] Don’t you just vote?” Stroman said. “I don’t think so, but it’s a possibility.”

Good weather is also expected for the main day, but Dawson said it could “cut both ways”.

“Some people might just go fishing, I don’t know?” he said. “We will know tomorrow. I can say that low voter turnout will be good for Donald Trump, and high turnout will be good for Nikki Haley.”

Will power brokers matter?

Dawson, the former party chairman, said South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster and South Carolina House Speaker Murrell Smith will also be watching to see how significant Trump will be.

“Those are the ones that really count,” Dawson said. “McMaster is well liked here. He is a gentleman and has said nothing about Nikki Haley and the speaker’s endorsement has led to many other endorsements.

Trump has strong support in Haley’s home state, and it’s not clear he would still be leading without them. But Dawson said his ability to catch McMaster and Smith was telling.

“Those are the two to watch,” he said. “The others don’t matter so much.”

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