South Carolina Republican Primary Preview


Duke Political Review’s Shaker Samman and Michelle Krogius are headed to South Carolina Thursday to report for DPR Dispatches on the state’s upcoming primary. The primary is this Saturday. What do you need to know before then?

First in the South

South Carolina is the first state in the South to hold a primary. Saturday’s results will present the heavily Red South’s views on the highly contentious Republican primary. Ted Cruz has long planned a “southern strategy” predicated on his appeal to the Tea Party and Evangelical voters of the South. He has focused much of his efforts and time in the “SEC states.” He needs a strong performance in South Carolina to take to Georgia, Alabama, Virginia, and other southern states voting on Super Tuesday (March 1). For Cruz, disappointment in South Carolina could erode the core strategy of his campaign.

Is Marco Rubio a robot?

Marco Rubio’s debate performance in Manchester, NH was widely criticized and his readiness for the presidency seriously doubted after he repeated essentially the same line four times. This sparked the appearance of people dressed in robot costumes at rallies across the state of South Carolina. His fifth place finish in New Hampshire was partially blamed on this debate performance. However, Rubio has seen resurgence and his campaign seems to have found new energy. A second place finish would make Rubio’s recovery official and position him as the realistic alternative to Trump.

The Nikki Haley Effect

Today, Marco Rubio received the endorsement of Nikki Haley, South Carolina’s widely popular Governor. Senator Tim Scott, the first African American Senator from the South since the end of Reconstruction, has also endorsed Rubio. 68% of South Carolinians hold favorable views of Haley while 61% hold favorable views of Scott. Those numbers are certainly higher among Republican voters. It is possible that these endorsements will propel Rubio to a strong second place finish. Lindsay Graham, the senior Senator of the state who also ran for the Republican nomination, has endorsed Jeb Bush, who is likely to finish outside of the top three.

W is back in more ways than one

President George W. Bush has made his first foray into politics since leaving office, campaigning for his brother this last week in South Carolina. President Bush has strong favorability ratings among South Carolina voters, cited as high as 86%. While the Jeb Bush campaign hopes to capitalize on W’s popularity, Donald Trump seems not to care. In the debate on Saturday night, Trump claimed that Bush “lied” about the existence of WMD’s in Iraq and contested Jeb Bush’s claim that his brother kept the country safe by stating that “the World Trade Center came down during your brother’s reign.” Many have predicted these comments would be Trump’s demise in the state. Then again, the same has been said many many times before…

Is Trump inevitable or improbable?

Trump leads national polls by double-digits (with the exception of one recent poll putting Ted Cruz in first) and consistently polls at either first or second in the upcoming primary states. Though we are early in the process, Donald Trump seems to be well situated. He holds support among a sizable portion of the Republican electorate, a group whose attachment to Trump seems un-phased by any comments. As Trump put it, “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.” Trump may not lose voters, but can he gain them? Among likely Republican voters in South Carolina, Trump polls in fifth place as voters’ second choice according to a Bloomberg poll. The same poll showed that more than one-third of likely voters say they would be “not OK” with Trump’s nomination and half say he is “too radical.” These results are consistent with national polls and represent Republican’s highly polarized opinions on Trump. This sentiment may limit Trump’s ability to grow beyond 35 or 40% of the electorate, a number at which Trump cannot win whether by electoral count or in a brokered convention. The size of Trump’s win in South Carolina may shed light on his viability in the ongoing primary.


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