‘Trump Country’ or ‘Haley Country’? Early Voting Underway in South Carolina

Nathan Worcester
By Nathan Worcester
February 18, 20242024 Elections
‘Trump Country’ or ‘Haley Country’? Early Voting Underway in South Carolina
People in an early voting site ahead of the Republican primary election at Wando Mount Pleasant Library in Mount Pleasant, S.C., on Feb. 17, 2024. (Madalina Vasiliu/The Epoch Times)

We’re calling it: the earliest early voting totals reveal that South Carolina’s Republican presidential primary has already attracted many more participants than the Democratic primary earlier this month, and not by a small margin.

As of Day 3 of the early voting period, which lasts from Feb. 12 through Feb. 22, the South Carolina Election Commission recorded 50,855 votes, more than the 48,213 recorded over the entirety of the Democratic presidential primary’s early voting period of Jan. 22 through Feb. 2.

It’s a sign, albeit an unsurprising one, that even as former President Donald J. Trump’s lead mounts, his race against former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley is still of greater interest than incumbent President Joe Biden’s mostly unchallenged attempt at being renominated.

But outside Wando Mount Pleasant Library, an early voting site near Charleston, on Feb. 17, even Ms. Haley’s supporters were pessimistic about her chances in a state she once governed.

Trey Bryant, a Haley voter from Mount Pleasant, did not equivocate when asked if he thinks she could win his state: “No, I don’t.”

“I’m hopeful that she can win the nomination,” Mr. Bryant added to The Epoch Times.

‘Good Humor’ in Purple-Red ‘Haley Country’

The library is one of just three early voting centers in Charleston County, population 419,279 as of 2022.

“People are in good humor,” said Kate Everingham, the site manager for the early voting site and a representative for the Charleston County Board of Elections, in an interview with The Epoch Times.

On the afternoon of Feb. 17, a steady stream of voters bustled in and out, mixed with families checking out books and older adults commenting on a screening of a new Metropolitan Opera production of Georges Bizet’s “Carmen.”

Robert Gair, another Haley voter from Mount Pleasant, told The Epoch Times he happened to cast a ballot because he was there to see the opera.

He said he would never vote for President Trump, calling him a “criminal.” A hypothetical choice between President Biden and Ms. Haley was, in his judgement, “a tossup.”

Mt. Pleasant 39, the precinct where the library is located, went solidly for President Trump in 2020, 61.7 percent to 36.9 percent, election records show. But not far away, on the other side of Highway 17, Mount Pleasant 39 tilted toward President Biden, 51.45 percent to 47.23 percent. Though there’s plenty of red on the map in and around Mount Pleasant, there’s blue, too.

The upscale, Sun Belt suburban atmosphere, complete with an abundance of golf courses and snowbirds, feels like something out of the early 2000s, right down to the greater affinity for Bush-Cheney conservatism. Rightly or wrongly, Ms. Haley is cast as the avatar of that Republican Party. President Trump, despite his ownership of actual golf courses and relocation to Florida from New York, is seen by many as the face of a more rural and blue-collar party, strong in the Piedmont and other places far from Charleston: Middle America’s “Trump Country.”

It’s not a new divide. In South Carolina’s 2012 Republican presidential primary, conservative Newt Gingrich defeated the eventual nominee, Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), also seen as more of a Bush-Cheney Republican. In deep-red, northwestern Anderson County, Mr. Gingrich secured almost 44 percent of the vote to Mr. Romney’s 22 percent. But in Charleston County, Mr. Romney actually beat Mr. Gingrich by almost 3 points.

Mr. Bryant, the Haley voter, didn’t disagree that Mount Pleasant was closer to “Haley Country” than other parts of the state.

NTD Photo
An early voting site ahead of the Republican primary election at Wando Mount Pleasant Library in Mount Pleasant, S.C., on Feb. 17, 2024. (Madalina Vasiliu/The Epoch Times)

But Debbie, a Trump voter who would not provide her last name, saw it differently.

“All of our neighbors are Trumpers,” she told The Epoch Times.

The Epoch Times encountered voters for Ms. Haley and for President Trump, but the turnout for the former governor appeared to be stronger, at least here. The full picture here and elsewhere in South Carolina won’t be clear until primary day, and maybe even after.

Tactical Voting to Undermine Trump

South Carolina has an open primary and does not register voters by political party. South Carolinians who typically favor Democrats can easily vote in the state’s Republican presidential primary—and vice-versa.

In 2020, some Republicans in the state took a similar approach in an effort to elevate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in the Democratic primary, as reported by the Post and Courier and other publications. But future President Biden ended up winning the state’s primary, turning around what until then was a troubled campaign.

While individuals can only vote in one of the state’s two presidential primaries, the very low turnout in the Democratic primary—less than in 2020—suggests many non-Republican South Carolinians did not make their voices heard in that election. What’s more, South Carolinians who vote in a particular party’s presidential primary do not have to stick with that party when the state primary elections take place in June.

It all creates the conditions for significant tactical crossover by Democrats or anti-Trump independents against the former president. Yet, the 2020 example suggests crossover voting has its limits.

Additionally, Democratic National Committee Chairman Jaime Harrison, a South Carolinian, has said Democrats in his state won’t vote to elevate Ms. Haley.

In Mount Pleasant, a few early voters made it clear they were choosing Ms. Haley in order to undermine President Trump and would prefer President Biden to her in a head-to-head matchup.

NTD Photo
Sue Teshner, a tax attorney, speaks with The Epoch Times after casting her vote at an early voting site ahead of the Republican primary election at Wando Mount Pleasant Library in Mount Pleasant, S.C., on Feb. 17, 2024. (Madalina Vasiliu/The Epoch Times)

One was Sue Teschner, a tax attorney from Mount Pleasant, who said she would vote for President Biden over Ms. Haley and “a coat hanger over Trump.” But her husband, a retired boat yard owner, is a Trump supporter.

“It’s been an interesting seven years, eight years,” she told The Epoch Times.

The Mais were another purplish pairing. Like many now voting in South Carolina, they came from someplace colder and bluer. In their case, it was Connecticut.

Both voted for Ms. Haley.

“I just wanted to have wanted to have a different choice than the two that are currently most popular,” Mr. Mai explained.

But while he characterized himself as “more libertarian-leaning than conservative,” Katie Mai, standing beside him, said she is “not on the same political spectrum” as Mr. Mai.

“I came out because I think Donald Trump’s dangerous,” she said. “I would never vote for a Republican under any other circumstances.”

NTD Photo
Chris (L) and Katie Mai (R) speak with The Epoch Times after casting their vote at an early voting site ahead of the Republican primary election at Wando Mount Pleasant Library in Mount Pleasant, S.C., on Feb. 17, 2024. (Madalina Vasiliu/The Epoch Times)

Early Voting Replaces In-Person Absentee Voting

Early voting takes place at Wando Library and centers like it from 8:30 a.m. until 6 p.m. every day until Feb. 22, except Feb. 18 and Feb. 19. A website operated by the South Carolina Election Commission lists locations throughout the state. Photo ID is needed to participate.

But the state also has absentee voting. Voters must show photo ID if they turn in those absentee ballots in person. However, those ballots can be mailed in, in which case no one checks a photo ID.

The state introduced its early voting system through a 2022 bill, Act 150. This year marks the first presidential primary season in South Carolina in which it is an option. Before that, voters who hoped to cast their ballots early had a much longer in-person absentee ballot period, lasting about a month as opposed to roughly two weeks for early voting.

Ms. Everingham, an elections veteran, recalled that the old system entailed multiple, complex “rules and regulations.”

By contrast, “early voting is available to every eligible registered voter.” (South Carolina does not have same-day voter registration.)

“You had to sign a form to say why you were voting absentee. Here, there’s nothing like that at all,” Ms. Everingham added when contrasting the old and new systems.

NTD Photo
A person votes at an early voting site ahead of the Republican primary election at Wando Mount Pleasant Library in Mount Pleasant, S.C., on Feb. 17, 2024. (Madalina Vasiliu/The Epoch Times)

Trump Backers in State Encourage Early Voting

President Trump is not short on endorsements from the upper ranks of South Carolina politics. Some of those high-profile supporters drew attention to the start of early voting on Feb. 12, reinforcing the perception that the state is President Trump’s to lose.

“Head to the polls so we can be one step closer to getting [Donald Trump] back in the White House!” Rep. Russell Fry (R-S.C.) wrote on X alongside an image of himself with President Trump.

“Even with President Trump’s high polling numbers, we still need to come out big starting today,” South Carolina Lieutenant Governor Pamela Evette wrote on X alongside an image of herself with President Trump.

A recent poll from CBS News and YouGov shows President Trump far ahead of Ms. Haley, garnering 65 percent of the vote to Ms. Haley’s 30 percent among likely voters in the GOP primary.

“Early voting has started in South Carolina—you know what to do! With Donald Trump, our communities were safer, our border more secure, our economy was robust, the D.C. establishment was running scared, and more than anything he loves our country and all her people,” Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) wrote on X alongside an image of herself.

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Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) speaks during a team Trump South Carolina press conference in Mount Pleasant, S.C., on Feb. 2, 2024. (Madalina Vasiliu/The Epoch Times)

Some Like Haley, But Trump Enthusiasm Unmatched

Ms. Haley still has some Republican fans in the state she once led. Haley rallies at a restaurant, a brewery, and similar sites across South Carolina have been packed with fans of the former governor, many of whom profess concern about President Trump’s leadership and electability.

“I think she [Ms. Haley] could remake the Republican Party into something I could be proud of again,” Capt. Eric Oser (ret.), a former nuclear submarine commander, told The Epoch Times at a Feb. 4 Haley event in Charleston.

In his view, President Trump “has no strategy and not an inkling of how to govern other than by executive orders.”

Katie, a woman at a Haley rally in Hilton Head, speculated to The Epoch Times that there may be numerous shy Haley voters—men and women who plan on backing the former United Nations ambassador but who are quiet about it because of President Trump’s strong popularity among many other voters.

It is possible the voters outside Mount Pleasant’s library are more typical than they seem and that there are, or will be, more Haley voters than polling suggests. For one thing, and as noted previously, turnout in the Democratic presidential primary wasn’t high. President Trump also elicits a strong and highly personal reaction from many voters.

Ms. Haley could not overcome Trump support in New Hampshire, a bluer northeastern state that saw many independent voters go for her. The deep-red Palmetto State would be an even tougher battleground.

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Citizens casts their votes in Dixville Notch, New Hampshire, on Jan. 23, 2024. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

The scale and intensity of a Feb. 10 Trump rally in Conway, South Carolina, reflects the great enthusiasm for the former president in South Carolina’s reddest corners.

President Trump received over 55 percent of South Carolina’s vote in the 2020 presidential contest. In Horry County, where Conway is located, the former president received over 66 percent of the vote—about two-thirds of the total as against 32.9 percent for President Biden.

Eighty miles up the coast from the suburbs of Charleston, the “Trump Country” feel in Conway was hard to deny. The line to get into the Conway event stretched for roughly half a mile.

“I’m 84 years old, and he thinks like me,” Trump supporter Rod Smith of Surfside Beach said of the man he intends to back.

Verd Odom, who represents District 6 in Marlboro County, South Carolina’s County Council, described his district as a “Donald Trump district.”

“People in South Carolina just do not have a good rapport with her [Nikki Haley],” he told The Epoch Times.

NTD Photo
Former President and 2024 presidential hopeful Donald Trump speaks at a “Get Out the Vote” Rally in Conway, S.C., on Feb. 10, 2024. (Julia Nikhinson/AFP via Getty Images)

Outside the Mount Pleasant library on Feb. 17, Trump voters Ray and Debbie agreed that Ms. Haley doesn’t have a path forward in her quest for the nomination. But Ray, an older man with a gentle Southern accent, had an olive branch.

“She may have a future in some other office,” he said.

Joseph Lord contributed to this report.

From The Epoch Times

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