Donald Trump, the insurgent candidate, has dominated the Republican presidential race in South Carolina – taking out the favorites among the establishment candidates and evangelical favorites ahead of the state’s primary Saturday.
Before the New York billionaire entered the race in June, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush led polls in South Carolina.
That was not surprising.
The Bush family had a legacy in the state.
Jeb Bush’s father, George H.W. Bush, and brother, George W. Bush, won the S.C Republican primaries en route to the White House. They developed a well-established support network in the state, though some traditional Bush backers joined the now-defunct presidential campaign of U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-Seneca.
A look at how the S.C. race unfolded:
Act 1: Bush III
Scott Walker: 17%
Mike Huckabee: 10%
Source: Gravis Marketing
Leading in national polls as well, Bush was the early favorite in the 2016 race. He fit the mold of recent Republican nominees, U.S. Sen. John McCain and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. They were establishment favorites, who agreed with mainstream GOP stances. But both lost to Democrat Barack Obama.
Then came Trump.
Act II: Enter The Donald
The one-time reality TV star had a message tailored to the mood of many South Carolinians.
Many people in the state, known for its independent streak, are angry about Washington politics. They are angry about undocumented immigrants. They think the government has not done enough to stop terrorists. And in one of the nation’s staunchest Republican states, they were unhappy with a two-term Democrat in the White House.
Trump’s proposals, notably building a wall along the U.S. border paid by Mexico and temporarily banning Muslims from entering the nation, were cheered by a growing cadre of supporters.
They trust Trump’s business prowess to improve the economy still recovering from the recession. They adore that he brings an outsider’s perspective. They cheer every time he says he will not be owned by special interests.
And they love that he is not politically correct. They are not bothered by his comments about Mexican immigrants, a female Fox News anchor or McCain’s war record.
Trump filled civic centers and auditoriums with thousands of spectators, the largest crowds that longtime S.C. political observers said they ever have seen.
Trump trailed Bush in his first S.C. poll taken a week after entering the race.
Source: Opinion Savvy
In the next poll, Trump took a lead that he has not relinquished.
Overall, Trump has led in all but two S.C. polls since declaring his candidacy. Almost all of his leads have come by double digits.
Trump has received support from a third of likely S.C. Republican primary voters, good enough to lead in a GOP field that has had as many as 17 candidates.
ACT III: The challengers
Trump has seen a succession of Republican rivals vie for second place.
First, there was Bush after he fell from the lead.
Then, came retired Maryland neurosurgeon Ben Carson, the only other candidate to top Trump in a S.C. poll.
Source: CBS News/YouGov
Most recently, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas has been Trump’s closest rival. But in the past week, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida has started to challenge for second.
The popularity of Cruz and Carson was not a surprise. They have been among the front-runners with South Carolina’s Christian evangelicals, who make up about 60 percent of the state’s GOP voters.
But even among social conservative voters, the two have lagged the race’s leader. Trump, married three times and not known as a religious man before the campaign, has topped polls among evangelicals just like he did with moderates and conservatives.
That cross-section of support has translated into a lead few see Trump relinquishing in South Carolina.
Source: Public Policy Polling
How much the still-active GOP candidates raised in South Carolina in 2015, according to Federal Election Commission records:
Ben Carson: $401,000
Marco Rubio: $338,300
Ted Cruz: $330,500
Jeb Bush: $189,700
Donald Trump: $30,600
John Kasich: $25,700