South Carolina Dems Could Help Haley … But Probably Won’t

A South Carolina Democrat votes, probably for Joe Biden.
Photo: ALLISON JOYCE/AFP via Getty Images

South Carolina is the rare state that allows each political party to choose the date for its own presidential primary. The primary matchup that could, for all practical purposes, end the GOP race is on February 24. You might have missed it, but South Carolina Democrats held their own primary on February 3 with President Joe Biden winning 96 percent of the vote over token opposition from Marianne Williamson and Dean Phillips. As one might expect in a lopsided contest involving an incumbent president, Democratic turnout was light; just 131,000 voters bothered to show up, or less than 5 percent of all registered voters in the state (South Carolina does not register by political party, making all primaries “open”).

What may ultimately matter most, however, is that these 131,000 voters have disqualified themselves from participating in the GOP primary three weeks away. Thus the pool of potential crossover voters available to save Nikki Haley’s bacon has shrunk. As polling has consistently shown, a big crossover vote aimed at stopping or at least complicating the nomination of Donald Trump provides the only hope of a Haley upset in the state she governed from 2011 until 2016, when she resigned to become Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations.

If the nomination is left up to Republicans, in South Carolina and elsewhere, there’s no question Trump will be the winner by a big margin. The most recent survey, from the Washington Post–Monmouth, shows Trump leading Haley by 60 points among self-identified “strong Republicans” in South Carolina; he leads in the RealClearPolitics averages of national GOP polls (including all eligible primary voters) by 55 points. But as in New Hampshire, she’s leading Trump (by 46 percent, in the Post-Monmouth poll) among non-Republicans who have expressed interest in voting in the GOP primary.

There hasn’t been any organized movement of Democrats urging their colleagues to cross over and back Haley; indeed, her big problem may be, ironically, that South Carolina is her home state, and Democrats there know her very partisan record well. Democratic National Committee chairman Jaime Harrison happens to be from that state, and, as The Hill reports, he has made it abundantly clear that a rescue mission for Haley is way off the table:

While speaking during an event Saturday morning in Columbia, S.C., Harrison relayed a message to Haley that she should not expect assistance from Democrats, where the campaign is looking to close the gap between former President Trump and Haley in her home state …

“Nikki Haley is a governor in the state who blocked 250,000 people from getting health care in this country,” he continued. “Nikki Haley is the governor that signed the most one [sic] of the most restrictive abortion bans in the country …”

“My message to Nikki from you know, bless her heart from the very start, is that we’re not gonna vote for you, because you didn’t do anything for us,” he said.

A big crossover vote on Haley’s behalf remains theoretically possible thanks to the low turnout in the Democratic primary, which was about 400,000 below the number of people who voted in the red-hot 2020 primary that launched Biden toward the nomination. It’s enthusiasm for that option that is lacking, particularly since it is no secret that Biden would prefer Trump as a general-election opponent. Clearly, 131,000 South Carolina Democrats have already voted with their feet to foreclose any succor for Trump’s one surviving intraparty opponent.

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