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In Trump vs. Haley primary, South Carolinians weigh in

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

South Carolina Republicans hold their primary today, and their choices are former President Donald Trump and their former governor Nikki Haley. Trump appears poised to defeat Haley by a significant margin. That's according to several recent polls. NPR political correspondent Sarah McCammon has been talking with South Carolina voters and joins us now from Charleston. Hey, Sarah.

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: Hey, Scott.

DETROW: Did you spy anything interesting from the voters at the polls today?

MCCAMMON: We always spy interesting things on Election Day. Today in South Carolina, you know, some voters are certainly supporting their former governor. We attended several Nikki Haley rallies this week, and a recurring theme there from voters was that they're concerned about the Republican front-runner, Donald Trump. Many have supported him in the past, but they're tired of his rhetoric and his legal troubles.

And Haley's supporters see her as competent. They like the fact that she is younger than either Trump or President Biden. You know, Scott, our colleague Jeongyoon Han met Linda and George Higgins (ph) at a polling site in Summerville outside Charleston earlier today. Higgins says she's an independent, and she has voted for Trump in the past. But she really admired Haley's leadership of South Carolina.

LINDA HIGGINS: I just like the way she managed the state. She did very well when we had, you know, hurricanes, disasters, things like that, and I've been waiting for her to run for president.

MCCAMMON: That was Linda Higgins. George Higgins says he voted for Biden in 2020, but he's concerned about Biden's age, among other things. And he's supporting Haley this time.

GEORGE HIGGINS: I think she's our best chance to unify and try to get everybody back on page instead of just being nasty to everybody.

MCCAMMON: But, you know, they are in the minority here. On the whole, Trump is very popular, and it is difficult even for a native South Carolinian like Haley to overcome that.

DETROW: Right. He's won the first three states already. He looks likely to win again in South Carolina tonight. What are you hearing about Trump from voters?

MCCAMMON: So the Trump supporters we've talked to, as you may expect, Scott, they liked him as president the first time. Another voter from Summerville, Sandi Mims (ph), said she sees Trump as someone who gets results.

SANDI MIMS: I just think Trump's firm. You know, he's going to do what's best for America, and, you know, Nikki Haley doesn't have his record.

MCCAMMON: Mims told me - or she told Jeongyoon she has some concerns about his temperament and rhetoric, but she still voted for Trump. And that has been one of Haley's arguments against him. She's referred to Trump as a bully, but for some voters, that is actually kind of an asset. I met Denise Moseman (ph) at a polling site today on Johns Island near Charleston. She wouldn't say who she just voted for, but she did say she thinks Trump is the stronger candidate.

DENISE MOSEMAN: I like the fact that the world is afraid of him. That helps him get his point across.

MCCAMMON: Moseman said she sees Trump's multiple criminal indictments as illegitimate and said he's being persecuted, as he has also described it. She said she thinks highly of Haley, that Haley was a good governor, but she says that Trump has a proven track record.

DETROW: As former governor, Haley is, of course, a South Carolina resident, which means that she voted today. You were there at the polling place. What did Haley have to say?

MCCAMMON: Right. She voted on Kiawah Island with several members of her family, and she took a moment there to respond to something that Trump said yesterday while he was speaking to a group of Black conservatives in Columbia, S.C. Trump suggested to them that Black voters have, quote, "embraced his mugshot and that his indictments have made him more appealing to the Black community." Now, Haley said those comments will hurt Republicans in November if Trump is indeed the nominee.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

NIKKI HALEY: It's disgusting, but that's what happens when he goes off the teleprompter. That's the chaos that comes with Donald Trump. That's the offensiveness that's going to happen every day between now and the general election. This is a huge warning sign.

MCCAMMON: Now, Scott, some of Haley's supporters agree with that analysis that Trump is weak and others are more afraid that Trump will win another term. And they say they're glad that Haley promised to stay in the race, at least through Super Tuesday. They think she provides an important alternative voice, and they're concerned about the direction that Trump has taken the Republican Party. But Scott, some told us that they would still vote for Trump over Biden if it comes down to it in November.

DETROW: That's NPR's Sarah McCammon in South Carolina. Sarah, we will talk a lot more later tonight after the polls close. Thanks so much.

MCCAMMON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Sarah McCammon
Sarah McCammon is a National Correspondent covering the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast for NPR. Her work focuses on political, social and cultural divides in America, including abortion and reproductive rights, and the intersections of politics and religion. She's also a frequent guest host for NPR news magazines, podcasts and special coverage.