Six candidates still in the race. Mixed results from the nation’s first caucus and primary. A ton of money spent. All the ingredients are in the pot for a record turnout in South Carolina’s GOP presidential primary.
“That is a defining story of this election cycle,” said state Republican Party Chairman Matt Moore. “The interest and engagement in this election are through the roof.”
Moore predicted total turnout Saturday could reach 650,000, which would shatter the 2012 record by almost 50,000 votes.
The early absentee voting already has broken records.
As of Thursday, South Carolina had issued 53,129 absentee ballots in the GOP primary and already had 45,672 returned, according to the State Election Commission.
In 2012, there were only 27,091 absentee ballots cast in the GOP presidential primary.
The surge in absentee voting and expectations for a record turnout should not come as a surprise, Moore said, noting that turnout also was about 10 percent above previous records in Iowa and New Hampshire. Both states shattered their respective records for GOP presidential turnout set in 2012.
Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, said he would be shocked if South Carolina doesn’t break its turnout record Saturday.
“Never before has there been such a crush of national TV attention nor so many dynamic, polarizing candidates,” he said.
South Carolina’s GOP front-runner Donald Trump was on the mind of some voters who cast absentee ballots Thursday at Charleston County’s John B. Chisolm Election Headquarters.
Catherine Burrous of Mount Pleasant hasn’t voted in every presidential primary, but she made sure to vote in this one, waiting in line Thursday to cast an absentee ballot.
“Usually, you know who is going to get it. This is too close,” she said. “I just would like not to have Donald Trump there. It’s a little scary to me.”
Olin Chamberlain of James Island, who voted just moments before Burrous, said he made the special trip to vote for Trump.
“I’m a lot more excited,” he said. “Hopefully, we can get a different candidate than what we have up there now. I think we need a little change. We need somebody who understands business.”
The crush of media has been inescapable in recent weeks, and it’s not just candidates saturating the airwaves.
A Wesleyan Media Project study released Thursday found interest group television advertising also has broken records. It found advertising in the GOP primary is up 22 percent over 2012 levels and 75 percent over 2008 levels, while group advertising — driven primarily by super PACs — is up 26 percent over 2012.
Even if Republican turnout shatters a record Saturday, few expect long lines at the polls. Democrats aren’t participating, and there’s only one thing on the ballot. In a general election, voters often wade through pages of different offices and ballot questions.
Not all who showed up in North Charleston Thursday to vote absentee had Trump or their minds.
Charles Wrenn of James Island said he voted for Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas because “he’s the only one honest enough to do what he says he’s going to do.”
And County Councilman Vic Rawl cast an absentee ballot in the Democratic primary, remarking he has never seen such a chasm between noise and substance in a primary season.
“I think common sense has immigrated to Russia,” he said.
Reach Robert Behre at (843) 937-5771 or at twitter.com/RobertFBehre.