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Trump wins South Carolina primary, as he closes in on the Republican nomination

By Gregory Krieg, CNN

(CNN) — Former President Donald Trump won South Carolina’s Republican presidential primary Saturday, further tightening his grip on the nomination and leaving his last remaining major rival, Nikki Haley, to consider her dwindling options.

The former president has swept all GOP nominating contests to date, first beating the field by large margins in Iowa and New Hampshire, before cleaning up in Nevada, where Haley didn’t appear on the ballot, and in the US Virgin Islands.

But his romp in South Carolina, which twice elected Haley its governor, might be the most impressive of this campaign.

 “This was a little sooner than we anticipated, and even bigger win than we anticipated,” Trump told a crowd at his election night watch party in Columbia shortly after being projected the winner.

Flanked onstage by a who’s who of Palmetto State political leaders, including Gov. Henry McMaster and Sen. Tim Scott, Trump declared, “I have never seen the Republican Party so unified as it is right now.”

While Scott’s fellow South Carolina senator, Lindsey Graham, was booed at Trump’s event, Scott was welcomed to the podium by wild cheers. He has emerged, since dropping out of the primary and endorsing Trump, as one of the former president’s favorite surrogates and a potential running mate.

“South Carolina is Trump country,” Scott declared to the delighted crowd.

Saturday’s result now places the onus on Haley, who continued in her concession speech to insist she has no plans to drop out of the race – a move that she said would leave GOP voters in the upcoming primary states with “a Soviet-style election with only one candidate.”

“There are huge numbers of voters in our Republican primaries who are saying they want an alternative. I said earlier this week that no matter what happens in South Carolina, I would continue to run for president,” Haley told supporters in Charleston. “I’m a woman of my word.”

Saturday’s result now places the onus on Haley, who doubled down earlier this week in a speech, declaring, “I’m not going anywhere.”

The next stop on the GOP nominating calendar is Michigan, where Republicans will vote in a primary Tuesday. After a few more scattered contests, March 5 will bring Super Tuesday – and an opportunity for Trump to draw even closer to wrapping up his third consecutive party nomination.

Defeated on her home turf, Haley’s already struggling campaign is likely to come under renewed pressure from Republicans who want her to drop out and allow Trump to focus exclusively on his likely rematch with President Joe Biden, who won the Palmetto State’s Democratic primary earlier this month with more than 96% of the vote.

Still, Haley’s team has consistently said the show will go on. They plan to pour resources into Super Tuesday states, according to campaign manager Betsy Ankney, who told reporters before polls closed that Haley would carry on no matter the outcome.

 “We know that Trump is a juggernaut. We know that he is strong. We know that he has been the de facto leader of the party for the past eight years. So, breaking that hold is going to take a lot,” Ankney said. “We are sprinting through the tape here. We have over 12 events planned in those Super Tuesday states, and we’re going to keep fighting.”

This story has been updated with additional developments.

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