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Trump or Haley? South Carolina voters prepare for ‘first in the South’ contest

The South Carolina primary has been a reliable indicator of who the presidential nominee will be. The candidate who wins the state's 2024 primary may become the next nominee.

Almost every winner of the South Carolina primary has gone on to become the presidential nominee.

“South Carolina has a really strong history of picking the Republican nominee,” said Jessica Taylor, the Cook Political Report Senate and governors editor. “Only in 2012, when they voted for Newt Gingrich, did they not do that.”

Smaller, less populous states like Iowa and New Hampshire give lesser-known candidates the opportunity to compete against those with high name recognition, whereas South Carolina has often ended an unlikely candidate’s momentum and instead boosted establishment politicians.


“A lot of folks who work in politics down here know that South Carolina is sort of the graveyard of presidential campaigns,” South Carolina Republican Party Chair Drew McKissick said. “South Carolina tends to be very representative of the Republican coalition at large around the country.”

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In 2016, it was Donald Trump who was thought of as the establishment outsider. He was able to break through the South Carolina firewall and secure the republican nomination.

“Whether you consider somebody establishment or not establishment, I think you can certainly look at President Trump as definitely being not an establishment [pick] in 2016 and more of the establishment pick now,” McKissick said.

Fox News spoke with Competition Cars owner Bill Garofalo first in 2016. He was planning to back Trump.

“With Trump, here comes a guy that is speaking the things that we want to hear,” Garofalo said before the 2016 primary.

Eight years later, he still thinks the former president is the best choice.

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“It’s a lot of the same commonsense ideas,” Garofalo said. “All of his policies, he just needs to go back and do what he did before. And I think we could be back on track in a very short time.”

While his political preference hasn’t changed, his business has.

When COVID kicked in, we had the supply chain issue going on. New cars were difficult to get. So, the new car dealers were scooping up all the used cars,” Garofalo said. 

He shifted his business away from selling late-model used cars and now sells classic cars.

“Part of me changing and adapting was because of the 40% increase, the supply chain issue that Biden never fixed,” Garofalo said. 

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He believes Trump would have handled the supply chain issues differently.

“Trump wouldn’t have put up with that. He would have had solutions,” Garofalo said. “It takes common sense and reason to deal with a lot of the problems that we had with COVID and what the Democrats did, and the way they’re running things right now, it’s just ridiculous.”

Criticism of President Biden and his party isn’t reserved solely for Republicans.

“I don’t want to vote for Biden. I don’t think he has all his capabilities. I think he’s honestly getting senile. And I’m really disgusted with the Democratic Party for not coming up with a better candidate,” South Carolina voter Elizabeth Ballard said.

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Ballard has voted Democrat for decades and most recently backed Biden in 2020. This election cycle, she has changed her tune.

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Elizabeth and her husband, Steve, have been married for three years. They have voted for different candidates in past elections. This time, the couple hopes former Gov. Nikki Haley is the nominee.

“I’m saving my vote for Nikki Haley,” Ballard said. “It’s been coming the past couple of years. My husband’s a Republican and is actually more informed than I am. And so I’ve been listening to what he has to say.”

“I like what I hear from Nikki so far. I’m here to learn more,” Ballard said at a recent Haley rally.

If Haley is not the nominee, she said she won’t vote for Biden or Trump.

“I’ll probably look for an independent candidate,” Ballard said. “They may not get in, but I can’t in good conscience vote for either of them.”

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Trump has had major influence in the state. Some of his top campaign issues are resonating with voters.

“The key issues that you’re hearing about at the national level, immigration being at the top and the economy, certainly those are all things that are definitely resonating here,” McKissick said.

With two candidates left in the Republican race, some voters are still undecided after their first choices dropped out of the race early on. They’re hoping to hear more from Trump and Haley on their top issues.

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“I feel that if you’re going to come into the country, do it legally,” South Carolina voter Paul Hunter said. “The country and our politicians need to get together and figure out a nice, comprehensive immigration plan.”

Paul and his wife, Teresa, had planned to vote for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis before he suspended his campaign last month.

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“Now we have to decide whether Haley’s going to give us some answers to what we want to hear,” Teresa said.

The couple attended Haley’s event in Newberry, South Carolina, hoping to hear more about her immigration and economic plans.

“We have our daughter living in our house with us. So, we know with the adult children coming back home and that multifamily living situation, it affects us personally,” Teresa said. “I have to know that there is somebody out there who’s going to have plans for that.”

While they hold the same top issues, the couple is leaning toward different candidates.

“I want to say that I would go for Nikki Haley and pray that I’m not throwing away my vote,” Teresa said.

Paul is leaning toward Trump but wants the rhetoric to change.

“The guy is brilliant. He’s got all the right ideas, but sometimes he has to fight around his own foot in his mouth,” Paul said.

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