‘It’s crunch time’

Presidential hopeful Donald Trump points to the ceiling Friday at the Charleston Area Convention Center, saying it reminds him of the wall he is going to build on the U.S.-Mexico border.

From the hills to the coast, the Republicans who want to be the next president of the United States campaigned long after the sun set Friday night.

By Saturday morning, picking a winner is up to you.

Friday saw a flurry of activity as the three leading candidates — Donald Trump, Texas. Sen. Ted Cruz and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio — all held big rallies in the Charleston area, where its mix of students, suburbanites, retirees and party faithful still leaves portions of the region’s huge GOP electorate up for grabs.

Cruz spoke at a theater in downtown Charleston, where he picked up a surprise endorsement from U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford, R-1st District.

In North Charleston, Gov. Nikki Haley continued to tour with her pick, Rubio, appearing at Stall High School with U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, Class of ’83.

Trump continued his trend of favoring big rallies over mom-and-pop venues by speaking to thousands inside the Charleston Area Convention Center.

The latest polls shows Trump continuing his lead. Clemson University’s Palmetto Poll found Trump with a 28 percent level of support, while his closest rival was Cruz at 19 percent. Rubio placed third with 15 percent.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is at 9 percent, followed by Ohio Gov. John Kasich and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson with 6 percent each.

“The only question seems to be who will finish second and who will finish fourth,” said pollster and political scientist Dave Woodard of Clemson.

The survey of 650 respondents began Sunday, the day after the Republican debate in Greenville. Its margin of error is plus or minus 3 percent

Polls open statewide today from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Here’s what each did in Charleston:

A boisterous crowd of 2,500 people swarmed inside the Charleston Area Convention Center on Friday evening, many arriving hours early, to hear Trump make his final pitch to S.C. voters.

“Folks, it’s crunch time,” Trump said, while supporters cheered and clamored to take cell phone photos. “We gotta get out tomorrow. We have to vote.”

The real estate mogul and former reality TV star didn’t stray from his usual talking points or political punching bags in his meandering, 40-minute speech. He touted his endorsements from former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, Arizona’s Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and Liberty University president Jerry Falwell, Jr. He railed against Obamacare, Common Core, Apple, environmental impact statements and Carrier, his least favorite American air conditioner manufacturer for planning to relocate a factory to Mexico.

On waterboarding, Trump called it “minimal, minimal, minimal torture.”

On the December mass shooting in San Bernardino, Calif., Trump claimed if the guns “were pointed in the other direction” the 14 people who were killed would have survived.

He repeated his pledge to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, even remarking that the ceiling of the Convention Center reminded him of “ the wall we’re going to build.” The audience roared in approval.

“It’s gonna be a great wall. It’s gonna be beautiful wall. Someday they’re probably going to name it after Trump,” he said.

He blasted his Republican opponents in Saturday’s primary, directing much of his venom toward Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who, according to Trump, “lies more than any human being I’ve ever seen.”

“Jesus, they’re idiots,” he said, sounding almost exasperated.

By Deanna Pan

Cruz’s last-ditch effort to sway voters on Friday included a parade of supporters and an endorsement from Republican U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford.

More than 650 people filled the seats at the College of Charleston’s Sottile Theatre and even more were relegated to a nearby classroom where they watched the 90-minute rally on closed-captioned TV.

Cruz implored voters to devote the final hours Saturday to prayer and rallying friends and family to vote.

“If each of us gets 10 other people to show up and we vote together, (we) can change the outcome,” Cruz said.

Standing on stage next to Cruz and Fox News Channel’s Sean Hannity, who taped the first 30 minutes of the rally for his Friday show, Sanford said Cruz stood out on opposing ethanol subsidies. “We need another fighter in Washington,” he said.

Just two days ago, Sanford told Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson that he probably would not endorse anyone because “endorsements don’t matter.”

Conservative political commentator and author David Limbaugh, former S.C. Attorney General Charlie Condon and “Duck Dynasty” patriarch Phil Robertson also spoke out for Cruz at the rally.

Robertson appeared on-stage twice: The first time, he carried a red Bible and declared that “Bibles and guns brought us here.” Later, he read from “Prayers and Presidents” by William J. Federer, sounding like a Southern preacher.

“You can tell a lot about a man by what he says,” he said. “You can really tell a lot about a man on how he prays. ... We went with the atheists beginning about 50 years ago and we’ve almost created an America of Hell on Earth.”

He called Cruz a “fearless voice for Jesus.”

By Brenda Rindge

In Rubio’s final pitch to South Carolina primary voters, the crowd shook the rafters of the Stall High School gymnasium after a rousing introduction from Gov. Nikki Haley and U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, a 1983 graduate of the North Charleston school.

Haley, who endorsed Rubio on Wednesday, described him as “a candidate with humility who understands that he serves all people, no matter who they voted for.”

Scott warmed the crowd up by joking about his own poor grades at Stall and compared Rubio to the high school mentor who helped turn his life around, Chick-fil-A restaurateur John Moniz.

“He reminds me of that mentor, someone who believes in all of us in such a powerful way, it inspires us,” Scott said.

After alluding to family members who live paycheck to paycheck while working as firefighters, teachers and nurses, Rubio said he was interested in “making the poor richer without making the rich poorer,” promising to “embrace free enterprise” following the model of Haley in South Carolina.

Rubio also peppered his speech with dire warnings about the economy and the threat of ISIS.

“The country that changed the history of my family is about to be lost,” said Rubio, a son of Cuban immigrants. “I fear my children are going to be the first generation in American history that’s worse off than their parents.”

On immigration, Rubio called for “20,000 new border agents instead of 20,000 new IRS agents.” He also urged caution on admitting Syrian refugees to the country, saying that one in 10,000 could be an ISIS agent.

“You cannot be 100 percent sure with people coming from this part of the world,” he said

By Paul Bowers