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Trump wins South Carolina's GOP primary as Haley vows to stay in the race

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump speaks at a primary election night party at the South Carolina State Fairgrounds in Columbia, S.C., on Saturday.
Andrew Harnik
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AP
Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump speaks at a primary election night party at the South Carolina State Fairgrounds in Columbia, S.C., on Saturday.

Updated February 25, 2024 at 2:59 PM ET

Former President Donald Trump beat his remaining major challenger, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, in South Carolina's Republican presidential primary Saturday, according to a race call from the Associated Press that came as polls closed statewide.

Even though Trump won the statewide race, Haley won the counties with the two biggest cities, Columbia and Charleston. Haley, who was elected twice as governor of the state, currently owns a home in Charleston County. She also won Beaufort County, home to Hilton Head. Haley was awarded three delegates in South Carolina and Trump, 47. That brings Haley's total delegate count so far to 20. Trump has 110. The first candidate to win 1,215 delegates will win the Republican presidential nomination.

Trump has now won every contest where he was on the ballot. His win in South Carolina is not exactly a surprise, though. Trump was leading in the polls in Haley's conservative home state throughout the entire race. The AP says that it based its race call on an analysis of a survey of primary voters that confirmed the findings of the pre-Election Day polling showing Trump far outpacing Haley statewide.

"This is an early evening and a fantastic evening," Trump told a crowd of supporters in South Carolina. "This was a little sooner than we expected ... an even bigger win than we anticipated."

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Haley told supporters that voters in many states will be weighing in during primary elections in the next few weeks and she will remain in the race until then.

"They have the right to a real choice, not a Soviet-style election with only one candidate," she said. "And I have a duty to give them that choice."

Haley congratulated Trump on his win during an event in South Carolina Saturday evening.

"No matter the results, I love the people of our state," she told her supporters.

Haley doubled down on comments made earlier this week that she would stay in the race no matter the results tonight. Her campaign is launching a "seven-figure" national ad buy ahead of Super Tuesday on March 5.

"There are huge numbers of voters in our Republican primaries who are saying they want an alternative," she said. "I said earlier this week that no matter what happens in South Carolina, I would continue to run for president. 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."

Trump has maintained a commanding lead in the party's presidential race despite facing a combined 91 state and federal charges. Many of those charges are related to his efforts to stay in office after losing the 2020 presidential election to Joe Biden.

Republican presidential candidate former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley (L) helps her mother Raj Kaur Randhawa (R) cast her ballot in the South Carolina Republican primary on Saturday in Kiawah Island, S.C.
Justin Sullivan / Getty Images
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Getty Images
Republican presidential candidate former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley (L) helps her mother Raj Kaur Randhawa (R) cast her ballot in the South Carolina Republican primary on Saturday in Kiawah Island, S.C.

Biden won the state's Democratic primary earlier this month with 96% of the vote.

The loss is a major blow to Haley's bid for the Republican nomination. Despite the significant money and time spent by the campaign in South Carolina, she was unable to garner enough support – including from leaders in the party. Trump remains very popular in the South and among more conservative voters in the U.S.

A closer look at South Carolina voters — and ahead to Michigan

So far, Haley has been doing best among voters who are more moderate, as well as Republican voters who are open to an alternative to Trump. In New Hampshire, which has a large share of independent voters, Haley got 43% of the vote. Trump won the primary, though, with 54% of the vote.

Lynda Higgins, an independent voter in South Carolina, said she voted for Haley in the GOP primary because she liked the job she did as governor.

"I just like the way she managed the state. She did very well when we had hurricanes, disasters, things like that," she told NPR. "I like the way she's handled the state."

And while Higgins said she voted for Trump in the last two elections, she said she'd like to vote for someone else in the upcoming general election.

"I just think that it has become too much of a hot point in this country with there's just too much division," she said. "And I think he heads that."

Republicans say the party has changed a lot in the state since Haley was governor there just a decade ago. Matt Moore, who previously served as the chairman of South Carolina's state Republican Party,told NPR's Don Gonyea that the GOP there is "a much different party than when Nikki Haley was governor."

"I would say that Nikki Haley is highly respected, first and foremost, but I do think people see a president differently than they see a governor or a member of a cabinet," he said. "She has run a very good textbook campaign. But the reality is that Trump has been the de facto incumbent of the party, and there's hardly anything anyone can do about it."

During his speech to supporters Saturday evening, Trump also looked ahead at upcoming contests – including Michigan's primary this coming Tuesday.

"Michigan is coming up and we are doing great," he said. "The autoworkers are going to be with us 100 percent."

But Trump said he's also expecting to sweep contests on Super Tuesday. He said polls show him winning in all the state's holding elections on March 5.

"I have never seen the Republican party so unified as it is right now," he said. "I have won every election by a record ... [but] we have a lot of work ahead of us."

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Ashley Lopez
Ashley Lopez is a political correspondent for NPR based in Austin, Texas. She joined NPR in May 2022. Prior to NPR, Lopez spent more than six years as a health care and politics reporter for KUT, Austin's public radio station. Before that, she was a political reporter for NPR Member stations in Florida and Kentucky. Lopez is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and grew up in Miami, Florida.