Trump beats Nikki Haley in her home state

Big win bolsters calls that Haley Trump's last remaining challenge should drop out of the race.

COLUMBIA (Reuters): Donald Trump easily defeated Nikki Haley in South Carolina’s Republican contest on Saturday, extending his winning streak as he marches toward a third consecutive presidential nomination and a rematch with Democratic President Joe Biden.

The former president had been widely favored to win the Southern state, despite his litany of criminal charges and Haley’s status as a native of South Carolina who won two terms as governor.

The big win bolstered calls from Trump’s allies that Haley, his last remaining challenger, should drop out of the race.

But Haley, who outperformed expectations based on opinion polls, defiantly insisted she would fight on at least through “Super Tuesday” on March 5, when Republicans in 15 states and one U.S. territory will cast ballots.

Trump won with 59.8% support against 39.5% for Haley with 99% of the expected vote tallied, according to Edison Research. Statewide opinion polls before Saturday had given Trump an average lead of 27.6 percentage points, according to the tracking website 538.

“Forty percent is not some tiny group,” Haley said of her vote share. “There are huge numbers of voters in our Republican primaries who are saying they want an alternative.”

Trump has dominated all five Republican primary contests thus far – in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, the U.S. Virgin Islands and now Haley’s home state – leaving Haley with no evident path to the Republican nomination.

Trump gave his victory speech in Columbia, the state capital, minutes after the polls closed and did not mention Haley, claiming his party’s mantle as he looked ahead to November’s general election.

“I have never seen the Republican Party so unified as it is right now,” he said.

In recent days Haley had notably sharpened her attacks on Trump, questioning his mental acuity and warning voters he would lose the general election to Biden.

But there is scant evidence that a majority of Republican voters is interested in any standard-bearer except Trump.

Immigration, which Trump has made a focus of his campaign, was the number one issue for voters on Saturday, according to an Edison exit poll. Some 39% cited that issue, above the 33% who said the economy was their top concern.

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