Trump scores easy win in South Carolina

Staff writer Susan Potter contributed to this article.

AJC on the trail

From Iowa to New Hampshire to South Carolina, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has brought in-depth coverage of the early voting in the Republican and Democratic presidential races. We'll continue to bring you the latest on how the races are developing in Georgia and the 11 other states voting on March 1, the day of the SEC primary.

The campaign comes to Georgia

As the March 1 Georgia primary grows nearer, presidential candidates are making plans to visit the State.

GOP front-runner Donald Trump will speak at 4 p.m. Sunday at the Georgia World Congress Center.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich is planning a town hall meeting at Kennesaw State University on Tuesday, the same day he will also address the Georgia House of Representatives.

Texas U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz announced that he will hold a campaign event Saturday in metro Atlanta.

For more candidate announcements, check and

New York billionaire Donald Trump won a comprehensive victory Saturday in the South Carolina primary, defeating five challengers soundly across every region of the state.

The thorough win gives Trump a two-state winning streak and sets him up to dominate the race into the near future, including the March 1 SEC primary, when Georgia and seven other Southern states vote.

While his victory was called less than 40 minutes after polls closed at 7 p.m., the race for second place went well into the night as Texas U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and Florida U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio watched as their numbers matched each other for hours. By 10:30 p.m. it appeared Rubio had secured second place.

Trump said he’s just getting started.

"I will be going to Nevada, we're making a big speech tomorrow in Atlanta and we're going right to Nevada," he said. "I think we're going to do well there, and the SEC is going to be very, very exciting. We expect to do very well. Very well."

For one of Trump’s biggest antagonists, Saturday night was the end. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush called an end to his presidential bid.

“I’m proud of the campaign we’ve run to unify the country,” Bush said. “But the people of Iowa and New Hampshire and South Carolina have spoken, and I really respect their decision. Tonight I am suspending my campaign.”

Bush, his family and U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham by his side, choked up.

“I’ve stood my ground, refusing to bend to the political winds,” said Bush, who often clashed with Trump, especially during GOP debates. “Despite what you might have heard, ideas matter, policy matters.”

The swiftness of Trump's win matched what public opinion polls had shown for months: The state was his to lose. But the numbers for the second-place race tightened considerably from what polls had shown. Rubio, whom Gov. Nikki Haley endorsed late Wednesday, clearly gained late momentum to challenge Cruz to be runner-up.

Trump, even in victory, couldn’t avoid a dig at Haley. With Lt. Gov. Henry McMaster by his side, Trump said, “the lieutenant governor, I will take him over the governor any time because we won.”

Rubio and Cruz both claimed a mandate from South Carolinians despite falling to Trump again.

“After tonight this becomes a three-person race and we will win the nomination,” Rubio said.

Rubio said Ronald Reagan’s victory in 1980 once lifted the country out of a funk and that he will do it again.

“Ronald Reagan made us believe that it was morning in America again and it was,” he said. “Well, now the children of the ‘Reagan Revolution’ are ready to assume the mantle of leadership.”

For Rubio, the difference between second and third is important, as he has not finished higher than third in any state.

Cruz also referenced Reagan’s famous “morning again in America” ad from his 1984 re-election campaign.

The campaign calendar, he said, turns "to March 1 and the SEC primary, and Iowa and New Hampshire and South Carolina have given the voters a clear, defined choice. You can go with Washington deal makers or we can stand together with a proven, consistent, constitutional conservative and bring back morning in America."

Ohio Gov. John Kasich and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, who both finished well behind the top three and actually trailed Bush, vowed to move on.

"Tonight it became a four-person race for the nomination," Kasich campaign strategist John Weaver said, repeating a message the campaign pushed all day. "Only four candidates have top-three finishes in any of the early states and can justify staying in."

Kasich, who came in second in New Hampshire, campaigned Saturday in Massachusetts, which votes March 1. He will focus next on Michigan, which votes March 8, along with Georgia and the other March 1 SEC primary states.

Carson, who spent Saturday night in Greenville, vowed that he’s “not going anywhere.” He said the people must use their power to change America.

“The problem is if we don’t exercise the power, they then continue to have the control, and this is a message that I’m going to be taking across the nation to try to help the people of America recognize that we still have the ability to dictate the course of our country,” he said.

With 99 percent of the votes counted, Trump was dominating.

Trump held a greater than 2-to-1 lead in the tea party stronghold of Horry County, the home of Myrtle Beach, and he overtook Rubio in evangelical-rich Greenville. He trailed Rubio only in Richland County, home to the state capital, and in Charleston County, like Richland an establishment stronghold.

His victory caps a bizarre campaign for the primary here. In the past two weeks Trump blamed President George W. Bush for 9/11, criticized Pope Francis, embraced a health insurance mandate and called Cruz a hypocrite, saying the Texas senator claims to be a Christian yet lies constantly.

Scott Huffmon, a political scientist and pollster at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, said Trump built upon the dissatisfaction South Carolina voters first expressed in 2012 when they voted for Newt Gingrich over establishment favorite Mitt Romney.

“South Carolina evangelicals aren’t like Iowa caucus evangelicals,” Huffmon said, “and Cruz couldn’t convince enough of them to vote from the pew rather than from their ideological preference.”

Trump, for his part, noted the negative tenor of the campaign here.

“It’s tough, it’s nasty, it’s mean, it’s vicious, it’s beautiful,” he said. “When you win, it’s beautiful.”