Homes on Blossom Street in Columbia, South Carolina, show support for their former governor with Nikki Haley signs in their front yards. (Photo by Jocelyn Dussault/Carolina News and Reporter)

All eyes are on the Palmetto State today as former Gov. Nikki Haley hopes to get enough votes in the state’s GOP presidential primary to remain competitive against former President Donald Trump.

Voter interest seems high.

If state GOP Chairman Drew McKissick’s estimate of at least 1 million day-of voters holds true, it would be more than double the Republican turnouts of the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary combined. 

A Trafalgar Group poll shows 58.9% of likely South Carolina primary voters support Trump, compared with 37.5% for Haley.

The poll that targeted Republicans was conducted Feb. 21 to Feb. 23 and shows Trump with an advantage of more than 21 percentage points.

Haley is looking to boost Democratic and independent turnout to cut into Trump’s big lead in polling. And many are looking for her to take Trump off the ballot. 

PrimaryPivot, a political action committee whose stated mission is “protecting our democracy by defeating Donald Trump,” targets Democrats and independents who don’t like Trump and did not vote in the state’s Democratic presidential primary Feb. 3.

A PAC representative said on its website that 303 people signed up  to “join the fight” against what it calls Trump’s threat to democracy.

Across social media platforms, the group’s followers number about 2,500. 

“The goal is to get as many votes as possible for Nikki Haley in order to stop Donald Trump from being president again,” said Chris Richardson, a PrimaryPivot senior advisor.

In South Carolina, any registered voters can cast ballots, as long as they didn’t vote in the Democratic primary on Feb. 3. Only 4% of the state’s registered voters participated then. 

That relatively low turnout leaves plenty of voters on the table for today’s primary.

“I think there’s going to be a surprising number of independents and Democratic voters who are going to cast a vote for Haley in order to preserve democracy,” Richardson said. 

But political strategists said Trump still is likely to take the state.

“Trump was able to tap into some reaction of a lot of people that are disaffected and see him as the voice that’s going to essentially make America great again,” said Robert Oldendick, a political science professor at the University of South Carolina. 

“There will be some people, some Democrats and independents, that will turn out to support Haley,” Oldendick said. “But is it going to be enough to make anything more than a marginal difference in the outcome on Saturday? I see there’s no precedent that’s what’s going to happen.”

While campaigning in South Carolina in weeks leading up to the primary, Haley said even if she loses her home state, she will stay in the race. 

“If Haley got within 15 points, that would essentially cut what we thought, based on the pre-election polling, in half,” Oldendick said.

He said closing the gap could show that pointed attacks of Trump could be resonating with voters. 

“But every indicator I’ve seen says that’s unlikely to happen,” Oldendick said. 

A big Trump win in South Carolina could prove to be more about voters’ loyalty to Trump than whether they liked Haley as governor.

 “Some of them remember the potholes when she was governor,” said Danielle Vinson, a professor of politics and international affairs at Furman University. But “she was absolutely a competent governor, and she was popular at the time. She was respected. I think this is just all about their loyalty to Trump. And she happens to be the person that’s challenging him.”

Haley was governor from 2011 to 2017 and Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations from January 2017 to December 2018.

But her home state’s loyalty to Trump runs deep. 

Nearly all the state’s Republican officials have endorsed the former president over their former governor, including Gov. Henry McMaster, five of the state’s seven U.S. House members and U.S. Sens. Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott, who Trump this week said is on his shortlist to be vice-president.

Polls statewide opened at 7 a.m. and will close at 7 p.m. 

Not sure where to vote? Go to the polling place finder page at


Residents of Lexington County’s Whitehall and Challedon neighborhoods enter Leaphart Elementary School to cast their ballots. (Photo by Jocelyn Dussault/Carolina News and Reporter)

This Lexington County home once was the residence of former Gov. Nikki Haley, who sold it in 2018. (Photo by Jocelyn Dussault/Carolina News and Reporter)

Seven Oaks Elementary School’s polling place stands ready for voters. (Photo by Eva Flowe/Carolina News and Reporter)