5 things to watch in the South Carolina GOP primary

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Polls will close at 7pm Eastern in today’s South Carolina GOP primary.

A big win is expected for former President Trump over his only remaining serious rival, former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley.

Haley, born and raised in the state, was twice elected governor here.

If Trump wins — any another outcome would be a colossal shock — he will have swept to victory in all four of the first primary contests.

Here are five things to watch.

The margin of Trump’s near-certain victory

Trump is leading by 31 points in the polling average maintained by The Hill and Decision Desk HQ (DDHQ).

If the actual results are similar — or more favorable for Trump — it will be implausible for Haley to argue she poses a credible threat to the former president.

Trump won the Iowa caucuses by 30 points and the New Hampshire primary by 10 points. In the third state to vote, Nevada, a dispute led to a caucus and a primary being held separately. Trump was effectively unopposed in the caucus, while a “none of the above” line in the primary attracted more votes than Haley.

It is of course possible that Haley makes the race tighter than the polls say. There could be a display of home-state loyalty for her. Moderate and liberal-leaning South Carolinians who did not vote in the Palmetto State’s Democratic primary earlier this month might lend her their backing to thwart Trump.

Still, Haley would need to outperform the polls by a big margin if she is to make the battle for the nomination competitive.

A rough benchmark would be if Haley were to whittle Trump’s advantage down below 15 points.

How hard will Team Trump push to get Haley to quit?

Assuming the polls aren’t wrong by an absurdly large margin, Haley is about to go down to defeat in her home state.

Trump allies are pushing hard for Haley to get out of the race already. Those calls will grow louder if the result is broadly as expected this evening.

At Trump’s final rally before the primary in Rock Hill, S.C., on Friday, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) told The Hill that Haley needed to exit because she was being “humiliated,” while Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.)  said that the continuing attacks on Trump from Haley needed to end.

Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), speaking from the stage, declared “the Republican primary is over and Donald Trump is our nominee.”

Scott, Mace and Greene have all endorsed Trump. But if the former president wins by around 30 points tonight, the broader GOP could ratchet up the pressure on Haley to quit.

Will Haley accede and bow out?

The official line from the Haley campaign is that she in the race until at least Super Tuesday, March 5.

In a conference call with reporters on Friday morning, Haley campaign manager Betsy Ankney said the candidate had booked a “seven-figure” ad buy across the Super Tuesday states.

“We know that this is an uphill battle,” Ankney acknowledged. “We know that the road is difficult, we know that the math is challenging. But this has never just been about who can win a Republican primary. This battle is about who can win in November.”

Underlining the no-surrender mentality, Haley is slated to be in Michigan on Sunday. The Wolverine State will hold primaries for both major parties on Tuesday.

Haley’s campaign does not appear to be hurting for money, having reported a $16.5 million haul in January.

But candidates hardly ever telegraph that they are dropping out until it happens. And Haley has at times said she needs to show continued momentum, implying she has to do better here than in New Hampshire, where she captured 43 percent of the vote.

Tonight, it is worth watching whether Haley ramps up her attacks on Trump even further or begins to dial them back. If she chooses the latter path, it could be a sign that she is preparing to bring her campaign to an end.

Is Tim Scott moving up in the Trump ‘veepstakes’?

Trump raised some eyebrows at his Friday rally with his emphatic praise of Scott.

The South Carolina senator had pursued his own quest for the nomination this cycle, but he failed to gain traction and withdrew in November, long before anyone actually voted. Scott endorsed Trump in January.

On Friday, Trump pronounced Scott “the greatest surrogate I’ve ever seen.” Alluding to Scott’s abandoned campaign, Trump added that he is “a much better representative of me than he is a representative for himself.”

It’s easy to see why Scott could appeal to Trump as a running mate. A well-liked senator who never excoriated the former president even while running against him, he is also unlikely to overshadow Trump on the campaign trail.

As the sole Black GOP senator, he could perhaps boost Trump’s standing with African American voters.

The list of contenders to be Trump’s running mate is long.

But it will be interesting to see how prominent Scott is in media appearances tonight and tomorrow morning. If Scott seems to be accorded a leading role by the campaign, it could auger well for his chances in the veepstakes.

Does Trump carry every district?

The race for delegates will soon become moot if Trump keeps rolling up victories.

Still, the former president would no doubt like a clean sweep of the 50 delegates at stake here.

Assuming, again, that there is not a seismic upset, Trump will claim 29 of those delegates by winning the state overall.

The remaining 21 delegates will be awarded to whichever candidate carries each of the state’s seven congressional districts. Each district win earns three delegates.

State experts think Haley’s best chance of notching a district-level win is in the 1st district on the southern coast, anchored in and around Charleston. If Haley were to carry the 2nd or 6th districts, it would signal an unexpectedly good night for her.

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