South Carolina voters finally will learn Saturday if the season of the insurgent political candidate is real.
Political newcomer Donald Trump is leading the pack into Saturday’s S.C. Republican primary, according to polls. U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who angered some in his own party by shutting down the federal government in a failed attempt to stop the Affordable Care Act, stands second.
The two insurgents won the GOP’s first two races in Iowa and New Hampshire.
A GOP establishment candidate has not placed better than third in S.C. poll averages. But U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida is hoping to punch his primary ticket out of the state.
Here’s a look at the primary that likely will narrow the Republican field to four candidates.
What’s at stake?
Donald Trump: A win could propel the New York billionaire toward the GOP nomination. He remains ahead in national polls but his S.C. lead is narrowing, according to one poll released this week. Anything less than a victory in the Palmetto State would be disappointing to Trump, who has led in S.C. polls since the summer. If Trump falters, blame will be placed on his critical comments during last Saturday’s debate about former President George W. Bush’s role in the 2001 terror attacks and his off-color language.
Ted Cruz: The U.S. senator from Texas needs to finish second in South Carolina, a state with a large bloc of evangelical voters, his main base of his support. Cruz won in Iowa, a state where a majority of GOP voters are evangelicals. And he has one of the best ground games in South Carolina A third-place finish will be blamed on voters thinking his campaign has played dirty tricks.
Marco Rubio: The U.S. senator from Florida wants to come out of South Carolina as the candidate of the GOP establishment. He has a chance with S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley’s recent endorsement and rising poll numbers, some of which show him challenging Cruz for second. A poor finish could be a sign that voters are worried about his lack of experience.
John Kasich: The Ohio governor made strong gains in South Carolina after a finishing second in New Hampshire. But the Republican race’s more moderate candidate was starting from the back of the pack in South Carolina. Kasich could come in fourth, which would be good enough to keep going to March primaries in Ohio and Michigan, more favorable Midwestern ground.
Jeb Bush: The former Florida governor needs to beat expectations and finish third to remain in the race. Bush invested a great deal in the state, where his father and brother won en route to the White House. Bush and his allied super PAC have spent the most on ads, and his brother, a former president, and mother, a former first lady, campaigned for him.
Ben Carson: The retired neurosurgeon is polling last in South Carolina, just months after challenging Trump for the lead in the GOP race. Like Bush, a top-three finish realistically is a must to keep going. Carson, who said Friday he would not quit the race, has S.C. support, having raised the most money among active Republican candidates from donors in the state last year.
Trump has the backing of a broad base of voters — from moderates to evangelicals — and is looking to win support across the state.
Cruz wants a strong showing in the Upstate and Pee Dee, areas where social conservative candidates, Mike Huckabee in 2008 and Rick Santorum in 2012, fared well.
Rubio could use help from Charleston and Hilton Head, coastal areas where GOP establishment candidates can perform better.
Kasich and Bush will look for support from the coast to the military-heavy Midlands.
Carson, like Cruz, needs a boost from Upstate evangelicals.
Top S.C. endorsements
Trump received the endorsement of Lt. Gov. Henry McMaster.
Rubio has endorsements from Haley, U.S. Sen. Tim Scott of North Charleston and U.S. Rep. Trey Gowdy of Spartanburg.
Bush has the support of U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham.
Cruz has the backing of U.S. Reps. Jeff Duncan of Laurens and Mark Sanford of Charleston.
Recent S.C GOP primary history
The last time the White House was open was in 2008, when U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., beat former Gov. Mike Huckabee, R-Ark., by less than 4 percentage points in South Carolina.
In the 2012 race to face Democrat President Barack Obama, South Carolina's three decade-long streak of choosing the eventual GOP presidential nominee was snapped. Former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich soundly defeated former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who went on to win the GOP nomination.
Record turnout is expected.
The large GOP field and interest generated by Trump are credited with producing high turnouts in the Iowa and New Hampshire GOP races earlier this month.
But the number of South Carolinians voting Saturday will dwarf those states. In 2012, for instance, 603,856 voters went to the polls for the S.C. GOP primary, 61 percent more than the combined voted in Iowa and New Hampshire that year.
The ballot will have 12 names, but just six candidates remain active — Bush, Carson, Cruz, Kasich, Rubio and Trump.
The six who have dropped out but will appear on the ballot are: Chris Christie, Carly Fiorina, Jim Gilmore, Mike Huckabee, Rand Paul and Rick Santorum.
S.C. GOP polls
Average of polls from Sunday through Froday, according to Real Clear Politics
Donald Trump: 31.8%
Ted Cruz: 18.4%
Marco Rubio: 17.8%
Jeb Bush: 10.3%
John Kasich: 9.5%
Ben Carson: 6.9%
What’s at stake in the S.C. primary?
▪ 50 delegates to the Republican Convention that will nominate the GOP candidate for president
▪ The top-finisher statewide will get 29 delegates.
▪ Also, the top-finisher in each South Carolina congressional district — there are seven — will get three delegates.
▪ After Iowa and New Hampshire, Donald Trump is leading the delegate count — at 17. He is followed by Ted Cruz at 11, Marco Rubio at 10, John Kasich at five, Jeb Bush at four and Ben Carson at three.
▪ Winning the nomination requires 1,237 delegates.