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Candidates ready for South Carolina GOP presidential primary

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Republican presidential primary voters will head to the polls in South Carolina on Saturday to choose their pick for president.

Former president Donald Trump holds a commanding lead in polls over Nikki Haley, the state’s former governor who later served as a United Nations ambassador.

Real Clear Politics’ polling average shows Trump ahead 63%-32% in the state. Nationally, the advantage climbs to 75%-17%.

Trump has won in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada, the first GOP candidate to open with such a sweep since 1976’s primary and caucuses calendar change. Michigan is three days after South Carolina, where Democrats chose President Joe Biden in their Feb. 3 primary.

Trump is well on his way to the needed majority 1,215 delegates to secure the party’s nomination. He leads Haley 63-17 – withdrawn candidates have 12 – and South Carolina has 50 delegates: 29 statewide, 21 congresssional at three per district; each case is winner take all.

While Haley has outlasted her other Republican primary contenders, she has not gotten their support. Billionaire Vivek Ramaswamy exited the night of the Iowa caucuses and immediately endorsed Trump. The following Sunday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis did the same. Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who went out Jan. 10 polling at 2%, did not back Trump and was caught on a hot microphone saying Haley would not win.

South Carolina’s major congressional delegation has publicly backed Trump, including Republican U.S. Sens. Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott, the latter a former presidential candidate in this election.

Now, Haley is trying to remain viable to primary voters and donors. Normally the primary might be all but over, but one looming factor has significantly complicated this race: Trump’s legal problems.

The nearly 100 criminal charges against the former president will be front and center in the coming months with court appearances scattered throughout his campaign schedule.

Haley hammered Trump for his legal woes on Monday.

“If Donald Trump gets his way, the RNC will spend more on his legal fees than on helping Republicans take back the Senate, grow our majority in the House, and win down ballot races across the country,” Haley wrote on X, the social media site formerly known as Twitter, and referring to the Republican National Committee. “There’s too much at stake to be focused on one man’s vendettas.”

Trump has defended himself repeatedly, saying the prosecutions are politically motivated.

“All political prosecutions of your favorite president, me, must stop immediately,” Trump wrote in all capital letters on TruthSocial on Monday. “We are in the middle of an election, perhaps the most important election in the history of our country, and these radical left lunatic prosecutors and judges are not allowed to be doing this. Why didn’t they start three years ago??? Because they wanted to interfere with the presidential election of 2024, that’s why!”

A key argument against Trump the first time he ran for president was electability. Polling shows Trump beating Biden across most if not all swing states.

In many places, Haley performs even better than Trump against Biden.

Super Tuesday is March 5, when 14 states hold primaries for both Democrats and Republicans. A 15th GOP primary that day is in Alaska.

“Donald Trump is more focused on his court cases than on our national security,” Haley wrote online Monday. “That’s a major problem. Why hasn’t he endorsed legislation to use seized Russian assets to aid Ukraine? Because he’s too busy going on late-night social media rants.”