Politics

Trump projected South Carolina winner; Cruz and Rubio battle for second

South Carolina voters arrive to vote in the Republican presidential primary at Mt. Horeb United Methodist Church in Lexington, South Carolina.
South Carolina voters arrive to vote in the Republican presidential primary at Mt. Horeb United Methodist Church in Lexington, South Carolina.
Matt Rourke/AP

Donald Trump is the projected winner of the South Carolina Republican primary, according to the Associated Press.

The real estate mogul had long led surveys in the Palmetto State, but the race had tightened in the closing days. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio are battling for second place, and the margins between the three top candidates remain in tight.

Cruz worked to turn out the state's sizable bloc of evangelical voters, while Rubio hoped to get a late boost from Gov. Nikki Haley's endorsement.

Late mudslinging between the candidates may have impacted the tight contest, though. A superPAC supporting Cruz was pushing out robo-calls, hitting Trump for supporting last summer's removal of the Confederate flag from the State Capitol grounds and for backing "forward motion" of LGBT rights.

There were plenty of accusations flying between Cruz and Rubio, too. The Florida senator's campaign slammed Cruz after they photoshopped a photo of Rubio and Obama shaking hands. The two rivals jabbed back and forth all week over their immigration records, too.

Jeb Bush may have the most on the line tonight, though. The former Florida governor has leaned heavily on his family connections to carry him in the state, bringing in his brother, former President George W. Bush, and his mother, former First Lady Barbara Bush, this week to campaign for him. But if he has a disappointing finish despite his heavy spending, it's even harder to see a path forward for his struggling campaign.

Former neurosurgeon Ben Carson has been fighting for conservative evangelical voters too, but has had trouble breaking through.

And Ohio Gov. John Kasich hoped for a boost in the state after his impressive second place New Hampshire finish last week, but he doesn't need a big result as bad as Bush and Carson do. In fact, Kasich has already turned his attention to delegate-rich Super Tuesday states which will vote on March 1, and will be in Massachusetts watching results tonight, not South Carolina.

This story has been updated.