A presidential primary like no other drew a record number of South Carolina Republicans to the polls.
Businessman Donald Trump not only won the state Saturday, he placed first in 44 of its 46 counties and appeared likely to walk away with nearly all of the state’s 50 delegates.
More than 725,000 ballots were cast in the six-way race, representing more than 24 percent of all registered voters in the state.
That’s up from the previous turnout record for a GOP presidential primary set in 2012, when 603,770 voted — or 22 percent of state voters at that time.
Asked about the biggest factors that fueled Saturday’s record turnout, Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, offered three reasons: “Trump, Trump, Trump.”
“News media coverage had a lot to do with it, too,” he added. “I can’t remember a South Carolina race that received this kind of blanket national coverage. You’d have to live under a rock not to know something big was happening.”
The results mirrored 2012, when former House Speaker Newt Gingrich took all but three South Carolina counties. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who finished second, eked out wins in Richland, Beaufort and Charleston counties — just enough to win a few delegates.
Trump won Beaufort County but lost the two others to Sen. Marco Rubio, who finished second Saturday but is uncertain about getting any delegates.
Sabato said Trump is a polarizing candidate whose coalition runs through most demographic and geographic categories, so it transcends some of the usual political divisions in a state like South Carolina.
“While the Palmetto State really doesn’t have any truly liberal areas, Charleston and Columbia could fairly be called moderate,” he said. “It makes sense that Trump would have more problems there. Also, the higher the educational level in a locality, the smaller the probability that Trump will carry it or do as well as his statewide average.”
The regional differences did play more of a role in second place. Rubio performed stronger along the coast, just enough to edge out Cruz, who finished second in most Upstate counties.
While Ohio Gov. John Kasich managed a third-place finish in Beaufort County, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush couldn’t manage a top-three showing anywhere — yet another contributing factor as to why he chose to suspend his campaign Saturday night.
“Bush’s candidacy has been dead for some time, but he had so much money and so many famous relatives that he was able to continue when other candidates would have dropped out,” Sabato said. “Even in pro-Bush South Carolina, three Bushes turned out to be one too many. And that’s been obvious for months.”
As of press time, Trump had won at least 44 of the state’s 50 delegates. More votes are needed in individual congressional districts to determine who won the six other delegates.
Trump leads the overall race for delegates with 55. Ted Cruz has 11 delegates, Marco Rubio has 10, John Kasich has five, Jeb Bush has four and Ben Carson has three. A Republican candidate needs 1,237 delegates to win.
Exit polls taken in South Carolina found that about 75 percent of GOP voters support a temporary ban on Muslims who are not American citizens from entering the United States — one of Trump’s signature proposals, according to The Associated Press.
Reach Robert Behre at 843-937-5771 or at twitter.com/RobertFBehre.