Charleston, S.C. – The first four contests in the Republican primary are about building momentum and proving viability; the contests from March onward are about collecting enough delegates to secure the nomination. At least, that’s the conventional wisdom among campaigns.
Here in South Carolina, however, both momentum and delegates are up for grabs. And not just a handful of delegates, like in Iowa and New Hampshire. Fifty total – and they won’t be awarded proportionally.
This is one of the most underappreciated aspects of the GOP nominating season, and with voters here heading to the polls until 7 p.m., it’s worth a final reminder: South Carolina has 50 delegates at stake tonight, and they could all be claimed by a single person. The reason: 29 go to the statewide winner, and the other 21 are divided among the state’s seven congressional districts, with the winner of each district collecting all three delegates.
That means Donald Trump, if the polls are accurate in predicting a comfortable victory statewide, is poised to win 47 or even all 50 of South Carolina’s delegates. (The state’s first congressional district, which includes parts of Charleston and Beaufort Counties and is home to older, wealthier, more moderate Republicans, was carried by Mitt Romney in 2012 and is the least likely of the seven to support Trump.)
That type of runaway delegate victory for Trump would represent a tangible step toward securing the nomination — and could drastically increase the pressure on underperforming candidates in the “establishment lane” to exit the race and allow for center-right voters to consolidate behind one anti-Trump challenger.
The delegate totals coming into South Carolina: Trump 17, Cruz 11, Rubio 10, Kasich 5, Bush 4, Carson 3. The number needed to win the GOP nomination: 1,237.