By Joseph Ax
(Reuters) – Former President Donald Trump and former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley’s battle for the Republican presidential nomination heads to South Carolina on Feb. 24, when the Southern state hosts the party’s third competitive contest of the primary season.
For Haley, who was born in South Carolina and served as its governor from 2011 to 2017, a loss in her home state would likely deal a fatal blow to her already long odds after Trump swept the first two contests in Iowa and New Hampshire.
Here are some key facts about South Carolina’s Republican primary:
WHEN IS THE SOUTH CAROLINA REPUBLICAN PRIMARY AND HOW DOES IT WORK?
The election will take place on Saturday, Feb. 24.
South Carolina does not have party registration, so its primaries are “open:” Registered voters are free to participate in the Republican contest, as long as they skip the Democratic primary, and vice versa.
Early in-person voting for the Republican primary begins on Feb. 12. Unlike Iowa’s esoteric caucus system, South Carolina’s primary elections operate like any other vote.
Fifty delegates to the Republican National Convention are up for grabs and will be awarded proportionately. Although its delegates represent a small slice of the 1,215 delegates needed to clinch the nomination, South Carolina nevertheless plays a pivotal role in determining the eventual nominee due to its early spot on the calendar.
WHEN DOES VOTING END AND WHEN CAN WE EXPECT RESULTS?
Polling places will be open on Feb. 24 from 7 a.m. ET (1200 GMT) to 7 p.m. ET (0000 GMT). News outlets typically begin reporting results as soon as polls close and will eventually project winners based on a combination of vote totals, exit polls, turnout figures and other data.
WHICH CANDIDATES ARE ON THE BALLOT?
The Republican primary will be the second head-to-head matchup between Trump and Haley, after Florida Governor Ron DeSantis exited the race just before the New Hampshire contest.
WHO IS LEADING IN OPINION POLLS?
Trump is dominating statewide polls, holding an average of 62% support compared with only 25% for Haley, according to the polling website 538. Those surveys were taken prior to Tuesday night’s results from New Hampshire, where Trump dashed Haley’s hopes for an upset in the more moderate New England state.
WHY IS THE SOUTH CAROLINA PRIMARY IMPORTANT?
Most analysts believe Haley’s campaign cannot survive another loss, especially in her home state, after Trump became the first non-incumbent Republican candidate to win both Iowa and New Hampshire since the modern primary system was established.
Trump has secured endorsements from the state’s most prominent Republicans, including Governor Henry McMaster and U.S. Senator Tim Scott.
An upset for Haley would give her campaign the momentum and fundraising to push on toward Super Tuesday on March 5, when Republicans in 15 states and one U.S. territory will choose their preferred nominee.
Another win for Trump, however, would likely make him the presumptive nominee in the eyes of Republican leaders, voters and donors. He already holds a 37-percentage point lead nationally, according to the most recent Reuters/Ipsos poll.
WHAT ABOUT DEMOCRATS?
The Democratic primary takes place on Feb. 3, and is not expected to be competitive, with President Joe Biden all but assured of victory.
Democrats are lavishing attention on the state anyway, because South Carolina will host the first official Democratic presidential nominating contest for the first time in U.S. history. At Biden’s urging, Democrats pulled South Carolina and its racially diverse population to the front of the line, over mostly white Iowa and New Hampshire.
Early voting is already underway. The Democratic primary will award 63 delegates to its party convention.
Aside from Biden, the top Democratic candidates on the ballot are U.S. Representative Dean Phillips of Minnesota and self-help guru Marianne Williamson.
New Hampshire went ahead with its Democratic primary this week, but Democrats cried foul and refused to put any delegates up for grabs. Biden, who declined to appear on the ballot, still won easily thanks to a write-in campaign.
(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Jonathan Oatis)