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Fox News
Fox News
24 Feb 2024

Voters are casting ballots today in South Carolina, the last of the major early states to choose a Republican nominee for president before Super Tuesday.

Former President Donald Trump has maintained a consistent and commanding polling lead, while the state’s former governor, Nikki Haley, will try to prove that she is a viable candidate with a competitive performance.

She will need to win at least in Charleston and Richland to clear that bar, while Trump will be looking to sweep the rest of the state.

Greenville and Spartanburg are battlegrounds to watch

Two counties in upstate South Carolina, Greenville and Spartanburg, add up to about 16% of the registered voter population of the state.

Nikki Haley and Donald Trump

Former South Carolina governor and U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, and former President Donald Trump. (Getty Images)

Like the overall region, these two counties are also heavily White and evangelical.

As we saw in Iowa, these voters favor Trump by wide margins, and the latest polling in South Carolina suggests they will vote similarly here today.

When Trump first ran for president in 2016, he had two major competitors in the Palmetto State: Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio.

Both candidates put up a serious fight in these two counties. In Greenville, they took 24.5% of the vote each; Trump won overall with 26.7%.


Cruz, who courted the evangelical vote throughout his run, took 24.5% in Spartanburg, while Rubio received 22.9%. Trump won with 32.6%.

The results from recent primaries and polling suggest that most of the Cruz voters have found a new home with Trump. 

Therefore, to win the state, Trump will look to take home at least a similar share of the vote in the upstate region as the combined share that he and Cruz took in 2016. For a performance in line with polling expectations, and with all other things being equal, he’ll look for something in the area of 65-75%.

With such an evangelical tilt, Haley is not likely to be very competitive here.

Charleston and Richland should be more favorable to Haley than other parts of the state

In line with her strategy in New Hampshire, Haley will look to win in highly populated urban and suburban areas. 

Charleston and Richland, which make up about 16% of the overall statewide vote, are at the top of the list.

Charleston County is home to the city of the same name, which is also the most populated city in the state. Richland County contains Columbia, the state’s capital and home of the University of South Carolina.

In 2016, these were the only counties where Rubio eked out a win.

They are also more affluent than most other parts of the state, and have more voters with a college degree; two of Haley’s key constituencies. 

Polling shows Haley running behind Trump but remaining competitive in these cities. The former hometown governor will need to do better than that to make this a race.

The better Haley does in these areas, the greater the chance that Haley will leave South Carolina with at least some delegates. That’s because, in addition to 29 statewide delegates, the state awards three delegates to the winner of the vote in each of its seven congressional districts.

Nikki Haley and Donald Trump

Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley is running against former President Donald Trump for the Republican nomination. Trump is running for a second term despite facing multiple legal fronts. (Getty Images)

Trump continues to dominate in rural areas

Some of Trump’s best performances in the 2016 Republican primary came from very small, rural counties.

He received more than 40% of the vote in 13 counties, ten of which had populations of less than 50,000 people.


Look to places like Lee County, in central South Carolina, where Trump took home 47% of the vote, beating closest rival Cruz by 25 points. Lee County’s population is about 16,000 people and dropping.

Head south to Allendale County, home to less than 8,000 South Carolinians. Trump received 44% there, beating the second place candidate, Rubio, by 19 points. Its population is also declining.

He received between 30% and 40% of the vote in another 27 counties, about half of which had populations of less than 50,000.

And that was in a race with two popular challengers, at a time when Trump had not yet persuaded the base that he had the right conservative credentials.

Collectively, these rural areas represent a powerful part of the overall statewide vote in South Carolina.

To win, Trump will look to bring out as many votes as possible.

Special coverage begins at 7PM ET on Fox News Channel

All polls close in South Carolina at 7 p.m. ET. Expect to see an early vote reported first in most areas; that vote will likely favor Haley.

Special coverage on Fox News Channel also begins at 7, anchored by Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum. 

Stay tuned for insights from our best-in-class Fox News Voter Analysis and the Fox News Decision Desk, which will call this race.

Rémy Numa is the lead political affairs specialist for Fox News Channel. You can follow him on Twitter: @remynuma.