Mike Schmidt votes at Cayce United Methodist Church in Lexington County on Saturday during South Carolina’s GOP presidential primary. (Associated Press photo/Carolina News and Reporter)

Voters – more than 700,000 of them – turned out for South Carolina’s Republican primary Saturday.

Many echoed one common goal: to vote President Joe Biden out of office come November. But there was disagreement over whether former president Donald Trump or former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley would be best suited for the task.

Multiple voters cited the economy and inflation as major policy issues. 

“If you want to buy a house, today, your mortgage is gonna be like $3,000,” said Glenn Miller, who voted early for Trump despite previously supporting Haley for governor. “It was a whole lot less under Trump. Look at how much food costs today, if you want to feed a family.”

Others expressed concerns about immigration – a frequent talking point for the Trump campaign.

Jackie Richards, 60, who voted for Haley at Richland County’s Satchel Ford Elementary School, said more needs to be done to secure the border. 

“I’m a social worker, and I work with refugees, but I don’t support the border and just being that everybody can flood over,” Richards said.

Trump’s demeanor 

Many Haley supporters referenced the former president’s personality and rhetoric as points of contention.

Laurence Boyd, 59, voted for Haley at Richland’s Dreher High School. His primary concerns with Trump go beyond the frontrunner’s platform. 

“I like Trump’s policies overall,” Boyd said. “I’m hoping that if (Haley) were to win, she would continue on with a lot of those policies. It’s just, yeah, he’s really divisive. … I think she’s more of a uniter than a divider.”

Trump supporters had mixed opinions on his brash persona. 

“He’s a little harsher and, you know, not smooth around the edges,” said Trump voter Barb McCraw, 57, from Lexington County. “But, I think he’s honest.” 

Bruce Rollins, 36, who voted in Red Bank, in Lexington County, said Trump would have served himself better by avoiding social media. 

“He probably would have been president twice,” Rollins said.

Trump’s legal issues

Much of the former president’s campaign has been mired in controversy over his 91 felony charges, with allegations of conspiracy in the Jan. 6 insurrection, election interference in Georgia, mishandling of classified documents and allegations of falsifying business records.

Multiple Trump supporters were skeptical of his criminal charges. Some suggested the former president was being persecuted to undermine his reelection bid. 

“It’s all a smokescreen,” Miller said. “They want to get Trump. Brandon is not going to be able to debate Trump. They’ve got to stop him somehow. They’ve thrown everything at him.”

“Because he’s Donald Trump, that’s why they’re going after him,” said Roy King, an 81-year-old Trump voter from Lexington County. “If he’s not going to stop fighting for himself, he’s not going to stop fighting for us. So I gotta go with him.”

Other Republicans find Trump’s legal situation problematic and believe it may affect his success in the general election.

“It is a little concerning, I think, for the people that are more in the center. I think that could definitely hurt him,” said Amanda Harrelson, who cast her ballot for Trump at Saxe Gotha Presbyterian Church in Lexington County.

“It’s so scary to me that a candidate can have so many legal battles and still be on the ballot, and still be ahead,” said Richards, who voted for Haley. “How does that happen? What has happened to America?” 

The age old question

Haley has repeatedly raised questions about her opponents’ age and mental acuity – implying neither Trump nor Biden have the capacity to meet the demands of the Oval Office.

Many Republican voters agreed with Haley about Biden but did not share her concerns about Trump, despite just a three-year age gap. 

“Joe Biden’s too old to be running right now. Donald Trump’s old as well, but at least he’s got sense still,” said Luke Moore, a 20 year-old Trump voter from Lexington County. 

“Biden has dementia, obviously,” McCraw said. “Trump is brilliant still, and I’m not concerned about his age.”

Establishment v. Trump

Multiple Trump supporters criticized Haley for being an establishment candidate.

“He fights for the American people. She seems to fight for big corporations,” said Scott Hydrick, 63, of Richland County. “You know, I like her. I just think he’s a better candidate.” 

Trump voter McCraw said she also thinks Haley is an establishment candidate, unlike Trump. 

“I think he cares about Americans and about our plight here in America,” she said.

Moore said he also believes Haley did not represent voters’ best interests.

“She’s owned by Joe Biden and the Democrats,” Moore said. “She just changes her opinion based on who’s gonna pay the most money.”

Looking forward

Despite opposing preferences, most voters said they would support either candidate in the general election. 

“I liked her as governor,” Harrelson said. “I think she did a great job. Between the two of them, I just prefer Trump over her. It’s not that I don’t like Nikki Haley. And if she won and was the Republican nominee, I’d vote for her. No problem.”

“I think you have to vote for the platform over the person,” said Elanor Boyd of Richland County, who previously voted for Trump but believes Haley would be a better president. “I think the Republican platform is better for all of us. You know, I have held my nose and voted in the past.”

The next GOP primary will be held in Michigan on Feb. 27. 


Carolina News and Reporter writer Eva Flowe contributed to this report.

Voters leave the Blythewood Park precinct in Richland County after casting ballots Saturday. (Photo by Amanda Petty/Carolina News and Reporter)

An American flag tablecloth sits idly touching the ground outside the Irmo High School polling center in Lexington County on Saturday. (Photo by Ben Crispin/Carolina News and Reporter)

A woman walks into the Blythewood Park precinct in Richland County on Saturday. (Photo by Amanda Petty/Carolina News and Reporter)


Alexandra Tudor

Alexandra Tudor

Tudor is a senior journalism major at the University of South Carolina. She has worked in corporate communications in Switzerland and the United States. Tudor is interested in politics and aspires to be an investigative political reporter.

Stephen Enright Jr.

Stephen Enright Jr.

Enright is a senior digital journalism major with a minor in political science at the University of South Carolina. He is from Powdersville, South Carolina. He is interested in reporting on how politics and internal policies affect sports teams. He reads political news articles and Southern literature in his free time. His favorite author is William Faulkner.