Published February 20, 2016 by Fox News
Donald Trump won the South Carolina Republican primary on Saturday, Fox News projects, putting him in a commanding position as the race shifts to a slew of delegate-rich contests.
Trump’s victory is not by the big double-digit margin that pre-election polls had suggested. Still, this makes back-to-back victories for Trump, who more than doubled the vote of his closest competitor in New Hampshire last week.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio remain locked in a battle for second place.
With 36 percent of precincts reporting, Cruz has 22 percent and Rubio has 21 percent. Trump leads with 34 percent.
Senior Cruz aides maintained the Texas senator remains “well-positioned” going into looming Southern state primaries, since he won Iowa and placed third in New Hampshire.
Rubio placed third in Iowa, but stumbled in New Hampshire following a rough debate performance. He vowed to bounce back, and entered the South Carolina contest enjoying support from the state’s popular governor, Nikki Haley, and other state leaders.
Lagging far behind Saturday are the three remaining candidates – Ohio Gov. John Kasich, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, all of whom appear to be stuck in single digits. Their fate could hang in the balance Saturday night.
The GOP race heads next to Nevada and after that to Super Tuesday, representing a delegate gold mine. Even South Carolina, with 50 delegates, is the most valuable GOP primary to date. As the winner, Trump would get the lion’s share.
South Carolina, historically, also is a prized contest for Republican candidates as it has a knack for picking the eventual nominee – the primary winner has gone on to claim the nomination in every race since 1980, except for 2012 when Newt Gingrich won.
The state has a reputation as well for bringing out bare-knuckle campaign tactics, and this year was no exception. Charges of dirty politics flew on all sides in the lead-up to Saturday’s primary, with robo-calls and misleading websites surfacing about the candidates.
The race tightened in the final days, but not enough to shake Trump’s long-time advantage there.
Trump had enjoyed a 13-point lead in the latest average of pre-election polls by Real Clear Politics. Fox News exit polls indicate significant numbers of late-deciding voters ended up supporting Cruz and Rubio , causing both candidates to perform more strongly than pre-election polling suggested.
Trump, according to exit polls, was still the overwhelming favorite among voters who said they’re angry with the federal government. Cruz , though, had the edge among voters who said their top issue is terrorism.
But of the three other candidates, only Kasich has made it onto the leaderboard in the two opening contests. Bush and Carson have yet to place in the top three, and the shut-out in South Carolina could further dim their future prospects.
Bush, the former Florida governor, entered the 2016 presidential race as an early favorite, but has fallen in the polls steadily, despite having had a couple strong debate performances in recent weeks.
This is a breaking news story, updates will be added.