FLORENCE — Following a second-place finish in Iowa earlier this week, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump returned to South Carolina confident and seemingly unfazed.
Energized by a crowd of more than 5,000 supporters at the Florence Civic Center, Trump cracked jokes and paused to greet students in the crowd dressed in T-shirts and capes that spelled out his last name. He even called on several supporters who said things that caught his attention.
In a pre-appearance interview, Trump told reporters he intended to carry on with a similar strategy in South Carolina as he has done in other primary states by addressing issues that concern the GOP base: strengthening the Southern border, protecting the Second Amendment and replacing the Affordable Care Act with something better.
“We’re going to take care of the middle class,” Trump said. “The middle class is almost like the forgotten class. They take care of people at the low end and the high end, and they’ve forgotten the people in the middle.”
Though speculation is growing on who South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley might endorse in the coming weeks, Trump said he didn’t expect it to be him.
“I’ve given her a lot of campaign contributions, but she obviously won’t be endorsing me and that’s fine,” Trump said. “She can endorse whoever she wants. I don’t think it’ll be me, but I wish her a lot of luck with the endorsement.”
Haley, who has acknowledged being critical of Trump and other “angry voices” in her State of the Union response, is expected to side with Florida Sen. Marco Rubio or even former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, if he does well in New Hampshire.
But Trump already has the endorsement of South Carolina’s second-in-command, Lt. Gov. Henry McMaster. Long considered an establishment politician, McMaster was at the Florence event and gave the opening speech.
S.C. Senate President Pro Tempore Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, was among other state politicos at Friday’s rally.
Trump said he expected to do well among black voters in the state, even as the state’s black electorate traditionally votes Democratic.
“I think I’m going to do fantastically with African-Americans,” Trump said. “I have so many great friendships. And also, they know I’m going to bring jobs back from China and all of these other places that have stolen our jobs.”
Once Trump took to the stage, he touched on familiar points, such as criticizing the nuclear agreement with Iran. He also talked about Christianity and the “beautiful churches” he spotted on the way to the Civic Center from the regional airport.
He also brought up the results of the Iowa Republican Caucus, saying he thought he should’ve finished first.
“A lot of things happened there,” he said, referring to the feud between the campaigns of Sen. Ted Cruz and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson over suggestions that Carson was potentially dropping out, creating friction.
“I don’t think I came in second,” Trump said. “I think I came in first. But honestly, it doesn’t matter. My total focus is now on New Hampshire. And then next week, my total focus is going to be here in South Carolina.”
Reach Cynthia Roldan at 843-708-5891.