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Stakes are high for Clemson alumna Haley heading into SC GOP primary

Matt Mynes
Flags and signs wave in support of Nikki Haley during her campaign announcement on Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2023, at the Charleston Visitor Center.

As South Carolinians prepare to head to the polls this weekend, two very familiar faces are on the Republican presidential primary ballot.

The race has narrowed to two main competitors: former president Donald Trump and former South Carolina governor and Clemson alumna Nikki Haley.

Haley has been playing catch up with the former president since Republican primary voting began in Iowa last month. All other major competitors have dropped out of the primary race, including Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who, although fell second to Trump in Iowa, beat Haley by two points in the state.

Despite her growing losses, including a more than 30-point defeat in Nevada’s primary to “None of These Candidates” and a devastating 11-point loss in the New Hampshire primary, Haley has remained in the race, likely wanting to claim her first victory of the primary race in her home state of South Carolina.

However, preelection polls do not show any promise for a Haley victory in South Carolina.

A February CBS News poll found that 65% of likely GOP voters in the Palmetto State would vote for Trump over Haley’s 30%. Additionally, 75% of those voters said the fact that Haley is from South Carolina makes “no difference” in their decision to vote or not to vote for the former governor.

Further denying any home state advantage for Haley, Trump’s approval rating for his time as president is more than 20 points higher than Haley’s as governor, and despite being from the same state as Haley, 81% of voters agreed that Trump is more likely to fight for people like them than Haley’s 56%, according to the poll.

Two Clemson student groups are divided between the Republican presidential primary candidates.

Earlier this month, the Clemson College Republicans publicly endorsed Trump in the race.

“Donald Trump is the only man who has decreased his net worth after running for president. He is an outsider who cannot be bought and sold by special interest groups, unlike South Carolina’s former governor,” Trevor Tiedeman, the chairman of the Clemson College Republicans, told The Tiger in an email. “President Trump has and will continue to put the American citizen first.”

However, Students for Haley started a chapter at Clemson in August, seeking to send the Clemson alumna and University Board of Trustees member to the Oval Office.

“The few polls we do have are not showing the full story of what is happening on the ground. Through tabling on library bridge and other events, I have found that while Donald Trump’s supporters may be the loudest, they are not the majority on campus,” Joshua Reyes, the chair of Clemson’s Students for Haley chapter, told The Tiger in response to Haley’s low polling numbers.

“As a lifelong South Carolinian, I have had the privilege of having Nikki Haley on my radar for as long as I can remember,” Reyes, a Greenville County native, added. “As governor, she stood up for what was right, even if it wasn’t the popular opinion at the time, all the while making South Carolina a more financially prosperous state.”

In the end, South Carolina could be the last stand for Haley’s campaign.

After all, it is her home state, and voters there elected her as governor twice. Haley has said that she doesn’t think she has to win South Carolina to remain in the race but that she needs to do better than she did in New Hampshire (43%) and Iowa (19%).

Haley’s South Carolina campaign trail did make a stop in Clemson on Tuesday. She spoke to community members, students and staff about her promise to bring a fresh perspective to the White House if elected president.

If she outperforms the polls, the momentum could carry her into the 16 races of Super Tuesday, where she would need to win over a significant portion of the population to be competitive.

The polls will be open on Saturday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. You can find your polling location here.

According to CBS News, the poll was conducted with a representative sample of 1,483 registered voters in South Carolina between February 5-10, 2024, including 1,004 likely Republican primary voters. The sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, education and geographic region based on the U.S. Census Current Population Survey, as well as past vote. The margin of error is ±3.0 points for the sample overall and ±4.4 points for likely Republican primary voters.

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Blake Mauro
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