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CNN Live Event/Special

Voting Underway In South Carolina's Republican Primary; Interview With Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC); Now: Final Minutes Of Voting In South Carolina GOP Primary. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired February 24, 2024 - 18:00   ET


HARRY ENTEN, CNN SENIOR DATA REPORTER: That's less than a month away, and again, like South Carolina, most of the contests left will award most or all of their delegates to the winner. It's not proportional. So the fact is we're going to have a very quick calendar going forward -- Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: We will be watching. Harry, thank you very much.

ENTEN: Thank you.

BLITZER: This quick programming note for our viewers, join me starting Monday, this coming Monday, 11:00 AM Eastern for a new edition of CNN NEWSROOM. And then as always, "The Situation Room" 6:00 PM Eastern.

Thanks very much for watching.

More special coverage of the South Carolina GOP primary continues right now with Jake Tapper and Anderson Cooper.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: In the South Carolina capital and across the state, the first southern showdown in the 2024 Republican presidential race is now underway. Voters choosing between the undefeated GOP frontrunner, Donald Trump and their former Governor Nikki Haley who is vowing to fight Trump to the bitter end.

Welcome CNN's live special coverage of the South Carolina Republican primary. I'm Anderson Cooper.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: And I'm Jake Tapper in the CNN Election Center.

There is less than one hour left for voters in the Palmetto State to cast their ballots. Donald Trump and Nikki Haley, of course, going head-to-head on Haley's home turf, raising the stakes for her campaign and making their fight perhaps even more combative. Trump is counting on another decisive win that would bring the former president closer to clinching the Republican nomination even as he is juggling court appearances and indictments. He faces his first criminal trial next month.

This could be Haley's last chance to slow Trump's march toward becoming the nominee. The self-proclaimed underdog is hoping to beat expectations tonight, but she says she's going to stay in the race no matter what the outcome today.

The fight is all about winning delegates. Of course, 50 delegates are on the line in South Carolina. This is the most of any single contest yet. Now heading into this evening, Trump leads Haley on the delegate count. He has 63, she has 17. Both still a long way from the 1,215 needed to lock up the GOP nomination.

The first results are going to start coming in once voting ends, that's at the top of the hour. And that will be our first chance to potentially project a winner. Our correspondents are on the scene where votes are being cast and counted.

And at Trump and Haley campaign headquarters in South Carolina, Columbia and Charleston, let's begin with CNN's Kristen Holmes who is at Trump headquarters in Columbia.

And Kristen, what is the thinking inside Trump world about tonight's fight against Haley?

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Jake, well, despite the fact that Donald Trump was outpaced by Nikki Haley on the campaign trail, was outspent by Nikki Haley, and that this is Nikki Haley's home state, she was the former South Carolina governor, they are expecting a resounding win.

And if the polls hold, that win would look something like 30 points and that is what they're hoping for. They want a definitive win for a number of reasons. As you said, to push him towards the actual delegate math that would make him become the presumptive GOP nominee, that would make him become the GOP nominee, sorry, I think you guys can't hear me, so I'm going to move it up a little bit closer to me.

But on top of that, it's also about donors. They want some of those holdout donors to come around. They want some of those Republicans who have been sitting on the sidelines hoping that there was a Trump alternative to get on board with the former president.

They are also hoping that a definitive win would put extra pressure on the former South Carolina governor to drop out of the race, despite the fact of course, as you noted, Haley has said she is not going to drop out until every primary vote is cast.

Now, they want to pivot to a general election. They want to start using resources to pivot to a general election to attack President Joe Biden. But as you noted, it's going to be a very long several months because Donald Trump in between having several of these campaign events and several primaries still, he is going to be in and out of courtrooms, something we've learned is going to happen again next week.

So as he is trying to pivot to general election, as she is trying to get through these primaries, again, all of those legal cases continue to loom over the former president.

TAPPER: All right, thank you so much, Kristen.

Now let's go to CNN's Brian Todd at a voting site in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, just outside Charleston.

Brian, what kind of turnout have you been seeing?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, it's been a very dynamic day here, and don't let this scene behind me belie that because there have been lines out the door all day long. We have had a new influx of voters coming in over the past few minutes and they're coming out right now.

No lines here right now, but again, this could be a last hour crush of voters coming in here before the polls closed in less than an hour.

What we're told here by the precinct chair is that more than 2,000 voters have come through here. This is a place where there are six precincts voting in one location.

Jennie Moore Elementary School here in Mount Pleasant. One of them is Bill Bell.

Bill is kind enough to talk to us. I've got to have full disclosure here, folks. Bill's had a rough day on the rugby field because he coaches a high school women's rugby team who didn't have their best day on the field, but still Bill has shown up here, but I've got to talk to you more, Bill, about your vote.

You voted twice for Nikki Haley as governor, but you voted for Don Donald Trump here as president. Tell us why you've switched.

BILL BELL, SOUTH CAROLINA REPUBLICAN VOTER: Well, I haven't switched. I still like Nikki Haley.

TODD: Right.


BELL: She was my governor, but Donald Trump did a great job as president. If you take his radical rhetoric away, and you take away the tweets, a lot of good things were accomplished during his presidency, a heck of a lot better than what we've had the last three years.

So a return, having Donald Trump come back in is just going to help the economy, get the border secured, and he's not going to try to send anybody over to foreign wars.

TODD: As you know, Donald Trump has a few legal cases pending against him. If he is convicted in any of those cases, would that change your mind about him?


TODD: Why?

BELL: Because it's all BS.

TODD: All right, well, thank you for talking to us. BELL: Thanks.

TODD: Appreciate you coming by and good luck next time on the field.

BELL: Yes, you all take care.

TODD: Thanks a lot. Okay.

We're going to show you something here. Now, we're not allowed to film the voting live inside, but what I can do is kind of pierce through the window here. Our photo journalist, Tok (ph) is going to peer through the window there. You can see people casting their ballots through the window there.

Last minute of voters coming in before the polls close, and then I'll take you over here very quickly, guys, just to show you what they're going to do as far as the tabulation. They're going to tabulate it on these strips of paper that look like giant CVS receipts, and then they're going to post it right here. Like these two things. It's going to look a lot like this.

We're going to be able to go inside in less than an hour and show them tabulating the vote, which they will then post right here.

Jake, back to you.

TAPPER: Yes, that's not a giant CVS receipt. That's just a standard CVS receipt in my mind.

Brian Todd, thanks so much.

Let's go to John King at the magic wall here. And John as Bill Bell, the rugby coach noted, Nikki HALEY has won South Carolina twice, but that's 2010 and 2014. Since then, Donald Trump has won South Carolina three times.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. 2016 primary, 2016 general, 2020 general election. No primary then. He was the incumbent, which just reinforces like I started on the National Map for a reason.

Trump won, Trump won again. Trump won again. Trump is three and oh. If Nikki Haley is going to stop Donald Trump, her home state is the best, perhaps last opportunity. And yet all the polling coming in, people are voting today. So in some ways, put the polls aside, but we do know that data, and it tells us Trump had a giant lead heading into Election Day.

So as you watch the map, what are you looking for when we do start to get results, right?

So I'm going to start down here in Charleston, because this is Charleston County. It's the third largest county in the state. It's along the coast. This is your more affluent, your more moderate Republican. Some military retirees down there as well. This is where Nikki Haley must -- must win -- if she's going to have any chance in the state just because of the nature of the state. Although, I just talked to two voters down in this county, both of them for Haley, who also say there's a lot of Trump talk down in there. I was just texting with him before we came on the air.

So we'll watch how Charleston comes in.

Another place to watch is up here, Horry County, this is where Myrtle Beach is. If any Republicans were going to have second thoughts about Donald Trump because he refuses to criticize Vladimir Putin, because he refuses to be tough when it comes to Russia, a lot of military tradition here. It used to be in South Carolina, you won the Republican race by being for lower taxes, less government, maybe pro- life on abortion, and for a strong military and against Russia or the Soviet Union. We'll see. That's a test there.

The first place though, Joe, I started on the coast, Jake. But then you look up here. This is the Bible Belt area of South Carolina. Greenville is the largest county in the state right here, number one, about 10 percent of the population.

Nikki Haley did very well here when she ran for governor, but I think you made the salient point. You say, it is her home state, but since she was last on the ballot, it has become Trump's Republican Party.

TAPPER: It has been a decade since she was on the ballot.

KING: Right.

TAPPER: I mean, that's a long time.

KING: Exactly right.

And you know, I was in there a couple of weeks ago and you get a lot of what Bill just told Brian Todd, I like her. She was a good governor. She'd make a great vice president. If she ran in four years, maybe I'd think about it. But I'm for Donald Trump. You just hear it over and over again, they like her, they just love him.

TAPPER: All right, more on this in a second.

We're getting an early read on who's turning out to vote in South Carolina today. Let's go to David Chalian with our exit polls.

David, what are you learning about the voters that turned out today?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, Jake, what we're seeing in these preliminary exit polls, and these numbers will change as the night goes on and as we get more surveys in is that this is a Republican primary electorate that looks more like the Iowa caucuses than it does the New Hampshire primary. Here is what I mean.

Are you part of the MAGA movement? Forty-five percent of voters in the South Carolina Republican primary say yes, they're part of the MAGA movement. Forty-nine percent say no. That's similar to what we saw in Iowa and New Hampshire, it was only a third that considered themselves part of the MAGA movement. And look at party ID. This is critical, 69 percent say they identify as Republican, 21 percent identify as Independent. That number in New Hampshire was 41 percent and that is why Nikki Haley was able to do so well in New Hampshire, even though she still lost it by 11 points. So the fact that there are far fewer Independents here is a problem for Nikki Haley.

And of course we checked in on how are you going to feel with the results here if indeed Trump wins the nomination? Seventy-two percent of Republican voters say they're going to be satisfied, 27 percent Say dissatisfied. I will note, among Haley voters, 76 percent will be dissatisfied if Trump is the nominee.

Now what about Nikki Haley if she wins the nomination?


Forty-one percent say they would be satisfied. Overall, those voting in the South Carolina Republican primary today, 57 percent, nearly six in 10 will be dissatisfied if Nikki Haley is the nominee -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, David Chalian, fascinating stuff.

Well, if I were Donald Trump, Dana Bash, Abby Phillip, and Manu Raju, I would look at those exit poll numbers. And I think, oh, I might even be having a better night than I thought I was going to have.

DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR AND POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and look, there is no question in anybody's mind, either in the Trump campaign, or in the Haley campaign, or in anybody pretty much on Planet Earth right now, who doesn't think that he is going to have a good night in South Carolina.

You hit the nail on the head. The question is, what is the percentage going to be? And we've already heard, though, despite that, in most contests, if somebody loses not once, not twice, but three times, particularly in their home state, it would be curtain call, and I'm going to go on and figure out what I'm going to do next.

She is determined to stay in this. She still has money. She has, I'm told, she is getting more and more stubborn and frankly, angry at the things that Donald Trump is saying about her, saying about her husband. We'll see how long that lasts. But for now, that is very much her plan.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: But what's the rationale going to be for staying in? That's going to be the big challenge and the question if she does lose by some 30 points as the polls are saying, and this is a very Trumpy electorate in her home state, a very bad sign for her.

What is she going to say when she comes out to explain the thinking of staying in a race where she has gotten wiped out state after state and it's just simply not going to get easier?

And she spent -- outspent Trump about $15 million. BASH: Yes. That's incredible.

RAJU: In South Carolina. Trump barely lifted a finger and he is on the way potentially to have a huge night tonight.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT AND ANCHOR OF "NEWSNIGHT WITH ABBY PHILLIP": Yes, I mean, a Trump person told me recently, they barely invested in South Carolina in terms of money. They really don't want to have to do that with any of these primaries. That's why they want this thing to be over. But I am hearing a lot of questions about what is the endgame for Nikki Haley in all of this? Where can she win? Where can she overperform? Where can she show that there's a reason for her to still be in it?

One of the fascinating things that I see in these exit polls, as Chalian was going through them is that this electorate, not just in South Carolina, but also in New Hampshire and in Iowa, even voters who may not consider themselves to be MAGA, they may not consider themselves to be election deniers, many of those voters are still voting for Donald Trump, and that is what has made it so difficult for anybody who is not named Donald Trump to have leeway with Republican voters right now.

They're just not all that interested in alternatives, which is not what we hear from so many Republicans, I don't know the Chris Sununus of the world over the last six months who kept saying, oh, Republicans are hungry for an alternative. Well, the electorate so far has not shown us.

TAPPER: One of the things that's interesting for those out there who have a historical knowledge of South Carolina politics is South Carolina can be really dirty.

We all remember -- I remember 24 years ago, John McCain beat George W. Bush in New Hampshire, they went down to South Carolina and it was dirty. All sorts of below the radar, innuendo allegations really, really nasty stuff.

Donald Trump, I'm not saying that everything's been above board, mainly because Donald Trump has said some onstage in front of a microphone and a crowd, some pretty outrageous things about Nikki Haley and her husband, but I don't -- I haven't heard anything about that. I haven't heard any really dirty, ugly, nasty politics, because there hasn't been the need to do it.

BASH: Right.

PHILLIP: Can I just say maybe it's also because in in decades past, the candidate would not have been doing these.

TAPPER: Right.

PHILLIP: Okay. Like the candidate is not usually the person who is saying that Nikki Haley's husband, who is over in a war zone is saying negative things about that. I mean, Trump has changed the game, because he is the guy who is slinging the mud now, and so they don't need a swift boat veterans for truth to do this stuff.

TAPPER: It could have gotten worse though is what I am saying.

BASH: It could have gotten been much worse.

TAPPER: It could have been a lot worse.

BASH: And it's not, and I think this is what you're suggesting, Jake, it's not as if the Trump campaign doesn't have an oppo book, because it's --

TAPPER: They are not above it.

BASH: Everybody does.

TAPPER; They are not above it.

BASH: And they haven't, because that's what every campaign has. They haven't really used it that much a little bit, but they haven't really used that much, because they haven't seen --

TAPPER: Nastier said was said about Nikki Haley, when she was running for governor and running for re-election. I'm not saying any of it should be part of our political discourse, but I think they felt like they didn't need to do it.

RAJU: Yes.

TAPPER: It's just an observation. I don't know what's going to happen.

RAJU: She's the one who has been far more negative about Trump over the last few weeks really dialing up the rhetoric going after him in a way that she didn't as much in previous states and just that exit poll that came out, just 27 percent of Republican voters would be dissatisfied if he won the nomination, that shows that those attacks really have not penetrated.


Another point too is that the exit polls show that roughly three quarters of voters made up their mind before January.

BASH: Yes.

RAJU: Those are already people who are locked in. So we'll see if they are the ones who ultimately vote for Trump. But what was her path in her home state? Maybe she didn't really have much.

TAPPER: And let's remember that she has said, and we're going to run the clip right now that no matter what happens tonight, she's not going anywhere. She's sticking around at least until Super Tuesday. Take a listen.


NIKKI HALEY (R), 2024 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE (MONDAY): I'll promise you this: I am in this fight. I will take the bruises. I will take the cuts.

HALEY (TUESDAY): I'll keep fighting until the American people close the door. That day is not today and it won't be on Saturday, not by a longshot.

We're going to keep going all the way through Super Tuesday. That's as far as I've thought in terms of going forward.


TAPPER: So those were her messages, Dana Monday, Tuesday and today, so she's in it for at least a few more weeks.

BASH: Yes.

TAPPER: No matter what.

BASH: No matter what and what I'm told from people around her that she is going to maybe say tonight and certainly will continue to say which is a version of what you just played is voters deserve a choice and if she drops out tonight or even tomorrow, then it will be the longest general election in history. I'm not sure if those facts are accurate, but that's the point that she is going to make.

Your point, Abby, that if you look at the percentages over the past three or four contests, it doesn't seem as though they really want much of a choice, but she is not getting zero.



TAPPER: There is much more ahead in our primary coverage as we countdown to the end of voting in South Carolina and the first results from polling places across the state. Up next, we're going to discuss expectations for tonight and the road ahead with Haley's campaign manager and with a key Trump ally, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham. Stay with us.


[18:20:48 ]

TAPPER: It is decision time in South Carolina, final minutes of voting in the Republican presidential primary. The state's former Governor Nikki Haley facing a critical test of her long shot bid to trip up the frontrunner, Donald Trump -- Dana Bash.

BASH: Thanks, Jake.

Joining us now is a key South Carolina lawmaker, the senior senator from South Carolina, Lindsey Graham, who of course has endorsed Donald Trump for president. I believe, Senator, you are at his campaign headquarters right now.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): Right. BASH: Senator earlier today, you said nobody could beat Trump in South Carolina except Jesus. How important though, is the margin of victory tonight? What do you think it will be? And I know you just got off the phone with the former president.

GRAHAM: Yes, he wants to know where hell I'm at. I told him I was talking to CNN and he says he loves you. So the bottom line is, I think it'd be big. I think it'd be north of 20, sixty-one percent of the people in the exit poll said they were evangelical Christians, that bodes pretty well for the president.

BASH: Senator, you say that you want Nikki Haley to make her own decision about how long she stays in this race. But if you do see a resounding margin, maybe along the lines of what you just mentioned, will you call on her to drop out?

GRAHAM: Well, she is a friend and I want her to be part of the future of the Republican Party. I thinks she's very talented. We have a very similar worldview and Nikki has a lot to offer the party and I just think there will come a point after tonight, if it's a big win, which I think could be, what's the narrative? What's the storyline? The voters have spoken.

And most people like me, I'm not voting against Nikki. I like her. I'm voting for Trump, because I thought he is a good president. He has been pretty badly treated, so that's what this election is about, it is appreciation for Trump, not anything lacking in her.

BASH: Well, you say that she's a friend and you want her to have a future in the party. Are you suggesting that if she stays in past tonight, assuming she does not do well, that that would hurt her future?

GRAHAM: I don't know that really. Just, the sooner we come together, the better. There is really no pathway for her after tonight.

She did better than anybody from South Carolina running for president. She has a lot to be proud of. But we need to come together as quick as we can. I'm hoping the president will give a gracious speech tonight and we can get the party unified and focus on November, the sooner the better.

BASH: Senator last night, Donald Trump said at a gala for Black conservatives that Black people like him because of his four indictments and his mug shot and said that Black conservatives understand the greatest evils in the US -- in the history of the US have come from corrupt systems that try to target and subjugate others and what's happened to Black Americans is now happening to him.

He is obviously a privileged White man, do you think that kind of analogy does him favors with Black voters?

GRAHAM: Well, number one, I think African-Americans have a higher propensity of going to jail than really anybody else in the population, that's why when we did the prison -- the First Step Act under Trump to get people out of jail who had been serving long sentences for a multitude of misdemeanors. So he actually cares about this topic.

But you know, Trump believes he's a victim of an out-of-control system in Washington, New York, and Georgia and I agree with that.

So at the end of the day, I think he'll do -- I think he'll do better with African-American voters than any Republican since Reagan.

BASH: Nikki Haley, your friend called those comments by Trump disgusting. You don't agree?

GRAHAM: Who's that?

BASH: Nikki Haley.


BASH: Nikki Haley.

GRAHAM: Sorry, I can't hear you. Who?

BASH: Nikki Haley called those comments disgusting?

GRAHAM: I think mostly -- yes, yes, well, I think that's -- she has every right to say anything she wants. President Trump, when he was president did a prison reform bill called First Steps that I think is one of the most historic pieces of legislation to get people out of jail who are serving long sentences particularly African-American and Hispanics, so I think his presidency was good for people of color and I think he'll do well.


And at the end of the day, the primary season is just about the end, and in about an hour from now, this thing will be over.

BASH: Senator before I let you go, do you want the former president if he is the nominee to pick your fellow senator from South Carolina, Tim Scott as his running mate?

GRAHAM: Yes, yes, yes. Yes. He has a lot of good choices. But Tim is ready to be president. He brings a lot to the table. Yes, I think Tim would be a great running mate for President Trump.

I've shared that it would be up to President Trump. He has a lot of good choices, but you know, people love Tim Scott in South Carolina and in the Republican Party.

BASH: Well, you said you're going to go see him right after this interview. I'm guessing you're going to share that thought with him as well.


BASH: Thank you. Senator, thanks for joining us tonight.

GRAHAM: I'm playing golf with him tomorrow. I'll share it a lot. Thanks.

BASH: Thank you.


TAPPER: Let's go to Kylie Atwood at Haley campaign headquarters in Charleston, South Carolina. She's with Governor Haley's campaign manager right now -- Kylie.

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: That's right. This is Betsy Ankney, Nikki Haley's campaign manager.

We just heard there from Lindsey Graham saying that the sooner the party comes to get together as one, the better. Obviously, you guys think that's not the case. You think a competitive primary is a good thing.

Nikki Haley said earlier today that she hopes that the results here in South Carolina are competitive. Can you define competitive?

BETSY ANKNEY, NIKKI HALEY'S CAMPAIGN MANAGER: Well, I think to get to what Senator Graham said, the only person who is helping Joe Biden is Donald Trump.

Donald Trump is the only person who Joe Biden can defeat in November. So our fight is about saving this country, about ultimately winning in November and getting this country back on track and whether you look at the polls or the history, Nikki Haley is the only candidate who can do that. So that's what we're focused on and that's where the fight is.

ATWOOD: But what's competitive here in South Carolina? Is it 10 points? Is it 20 points?

ANKNEY: We've never put benchmarks like that. Nikki has said that as long as there is an appetite for her message, we will continue to fight.

ATWOOD: So when you look at South Carolina, Nikki Haley and her allies has spent more than $16 million on advertising in the state. There has been more than 30 campaign events. You've been at most of those.

This is also Nikki Haley's home state. If she can't win here, which Super Tuesday states can she win? She has such a competitive edge here it seems.

ANKNEY: Nikki Haley has been the underdog in this race the entire time. She has been the underdog in her career the entire time. This truly as she said on Tuesday is a David versus Goliath fight. 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 mold is going to take a lot. So 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.

ATWOOD: Which Super Tuesday states is a campaign plan to put resources into?

ANKNEY: So we just announced that we are doing a $7 million -- I'm sorry, a seven-figure buy in those Super Tuesday states. It's a national cable buy plus digital. We are going to be in Michigan tomorrow. We already announced a half a million dollar buy there. Then we're heading to Minneapolis, we are going to be in Colorado, Utah, North Carolina, Virginia, Massachusetts, Maine, Vermont. So...

ATWOOD: That's a lot of states.

ANKNEY: It is a lot of states, we're covering a lot of ground. There's a lot at stake here. So Nikki is going to be really sprinting through the tape there. She's going to be covering a lot of ground and we're going to be taking her message to all of those people.

ATWOOD: Appreciate it. We'll be watching -- Jake.

TAPPER: Thanks, Kylie.

And everyone, stay with us as we get closer to the end of voting in South Carolina and our first chance to potentially project a winner in the Republican presidential primary. We have cameras and correspondents at key locations across the Palmetto State to bring you vote totals as they're announced.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: And we're back with our live coverage of the South Carolina Republican Presidential Primary. Voters have less than half an hour to put their stamp on the race between Donald Trump and Nikki Haley. A battle that has grown more bitter and increasingly personal in the lead-up to the actual voting.

Let's go to CNN's Boris Sanchez now. He's at a polling place in Rock Hill, South Carolina.

Boris, what are you hearing from voters there?

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN HOST: Jake, a lot of divergent opinions among voters. The last-minute folks are just trickling in right now. As you said, less than 30 minutes away from that tabulation machine being shut down, the results going to the central location here in York County and then being tabulated.

I do want to quickly get you to Max (ph), who has been patiently waiting for us outside. Max came out to vote with his family. Thank you so much for being with us, Max.

MAX: Thank you.

SANCHEZ: We're live right now. I understand that you supported Donald Trump, the former president in this primary. Why? MAX: Correct. So the three things that are most important to me is first is faith. My faith as a Christian. Second is my family. And then third, everything else gets trumped by America. I'm America first at the heart.

When it comes to Donald Trump, I believe his proven experience as president was incredible for my personal family, for my religious beliefs and as an entrepreneur, my business beliefs in America, so, yes.

SANCHEZ: Do you have any concerns about his legal challenges? Did any of the 91 charges that he's facing give you any pause to support him?

MAX: As somebody who has accidentally broken the law myself, carrying a firearm into an airport, I believe that the legal system can be confusing, not always transparent.


And until he is charged - really found guilty for something and punished appropriately so for it, I am not concerned about where he stands currently with legal situations.

SANCHEZ: So if he is convicted, you would be potentially open to voting for someone else?

MAX: I don't know if I would go and - yes, I - hold on, let me think for a second. It would have a serious impact on my decisions. I would say that - I would honestly say that that is probably where my stance is currently, it would have a serious impact on my decisions.

SANCHEZ: Hey, Max, thank you so much for sharing your opinions with us.

MAX: Thank you. Thank you very much.

SANCHEZ: We do very much appreciate it. We'll let you get to your family. They've been waiting.

MAX: Have a great weekend.

SANCHEZ: Thank you so much.

MAX: Thank you. Thank you.

SANCHEZ: So Jake, a lot of different types of voters here, as you just heard from Max, a Trump voter there. Earlier, we spoke to some Nikki Haley supporters, including a Democrat who voted in this open primary, saying that she would vote for Nikki Haley in the general election. Again, 30 minutes to go before we start seeing results, Jake.

TAPPER: Thank you so much, Boris. Max, of course. Just one of many, many voters of faith in South Carolina.

Let's go to David Chalian with more exit poll information. David, what issues do voters have on their minds as they went to the polls today? CHALIAN: Yes. We asked, what's the most important issue of your vote today, Jake. And immigration, 41 percent of Republican primary voters in South Carolina say immigration. This is the first time we've seen immigration pop as the most important issue. It's been high up there, but now it's on top, 31 percent say the economy, foreign policy is down at 11 percent, abortion at 10 percent.

We also asked, what are your feelings about the way things are going in the United States today? This is an angrier electorate in South Carolina than we saw in New Hampshire a few weeks ago. Forty six percent, the plurality say they're angry about the way things are going in the U.S. Another 42 percent are dissatisfied, so 88 percent either dissatisfied or angry. That's toxic for incumbent like Joe Biden.

The condition of the nation's economy, only 2 percent of voters in the primary say it's excellent, 14 percent say it's good, 38 percent, not so good. And nearly half, 46 percent of Republican primary voters say it's poor. And then we asked, what about your personal family financial situation, 60 percent of voters today say they're holding steady. Only one in five, nearly a quarter, 22 percent say they're getting ahead and 16 percent say they're actually falling behind, Anderson.

COOPER: David Chalian, thanks so much.

Immigration, number one issue in this, according to David. Also so interesting to hear from that voter, Max. Also, we heard from somebody else, both of those voters didn't really blink an eye at the charges that the former president is facing.

ALYSSA FARAH GRIFFIN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, it's fascinating. I mean, and we tend to be reductive in how we look at voters. We actually hear from some of them. This was somebody who could have been, frankly, a Trump campaign surrogate. He was so enthusiastic about Donald Trump. But he did allude to that there was a conviction that could change the course for him. That's going to be the main thing to watch in this after this race gets locked up, is how many of these diehard supporters who love the Trump years could still be with him if he's, in fact, a convicted felon.

KASIE HUNT, CNN HOST: Yes. We got to watch him kind of actually think about it on camera, right? Like, consider it. And he said it would have a serious impact. And I think this is really the thing that when I talk to some of you at this table or other Republican sources, this is what they all worry about. No one knows. But if it happens, the answer is really unclear and Democrats feel very, very (inaudible) ...

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: And that may have an impact on a general election. But let's be clear, there's not going to be a guilty verdict or any verdict before Donald Trump becomes the nominee of the Republican Party. He's going to clinch that before there's ever a verdict in any of these cases. So we'll see if when everybody puts on their - the blue uniform and the red uniform, how the whole thing sorts out. SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: This immigration poll that David Chalian put up, this is coming on the heels of the congressional inaction on it, also on the heels of what Biden has said about it. This week, the Gallup poll had Biden at his worst ever number on immigration, minus 39, severely underwater. And I'll tell you what Republicans are buzzing about today. I'm not surprised to see this number so high is the death of the college student in Georgia, Laken Riley. There is a suspect who is in custody who is alleged to be in the country illegally.

Republicans are on fire about this. And so generally, from a policy perspective, and now you have this murder going on in Georgia, I think you're going to continue to see this immigration number go up and up.

AUDIE CORNISH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The thing that shocked me was the economy number that we pointed out, basically, that you had entrance going in just 16 percent say that their family is personally falling behind, even though more than 80 percent of them say the economy is just that bad. So there's this idea that somewhere, somewhere out there, the economy is bad for people. Trump's going to make it better. But then when you say, are you okay? They're like, oh, yes, I'm fine. But there's someone out there that needs help and Trump is going to be the one to do it.

HUNT: It is interesting that it's the top issue right here in South Carolina, although I think the economy and immigration sometimes get up - tied up together like voters conflate them, yeah.0

BAKARI SELLERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think one of the - oh, go ahead.


JONAH GOLDBERG, CO-FOUNDER AND EDITOR IN CHIEF, THE DISPATCH: I'm just going to say, first of all, as somebody who's also accidentally broken the law ...

AXELROD: There's someone waiting for you outside.

GOLDBERG: This seemed to me like just more evidence that Tip O'Neill's old phrase that all politics is local is at least over for the foreseeable future. Politics is all nationalized. Everything is nationalized. Immigration, I'm sure there are problems with immigration in South Carolina, but that's really a national media driven response when - as Audie says when basically 82 percent say they're doing fine or better under Biden, but they still think the economy stinks. That's because they're getting that national messaging and it's not really about their (inaudible) ...

SELLERS: One of the things that was fascinating to me is just listening to Max and Max listed the things that matter to him first. And I think this is what jumps out to most people watching who are not stuck in this kind of vacuum that we live in, that he said it was faith and family. And that's why he came out and supported Donald Trump. And for me and many voters and many just people who watch this process that doesn't match up with who we know Donald Trump to be, somebody who was found liable of sexual assault, somebody who has five kids by three different baby mamas.

I mean, this is the - when you - and when you go to South Carolina and you're talking to voters, particularly in the upstate, where you have Pickens, Oconee, Greenville, Spartanburg, which is going to decide this race tonight. And you have these evangelicals, you have the Bob Jones universities, and you look at them and you say, and if you just give them a blank slate, you don't even mention Donald Trump's names, but you look at the facts behind the man and who he is, stiffing workers, et cetera, when he was developer - developing here in New York. And you say, would you vote for this person, the answer is no.

And so I do think that when you look at how nationalized these elections have become, it's something that is making these evangelical voters just push Donald Trump's button and it doesn't make any sense.

AXELROD: Yes, I also ...

COOPER: (Inaudible) ...

AXELROD: Go ahead, Van.

VAN JONES, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: And also, I think that part of it is about Trump's strength, his ability to kind of remark himself. It's not just about Trump's strength. It's about Biden's weakness. Nobody's scared of Biden. They're not afraid to put up against Biden. Somebody who's got 159 gazillion felonies and all these different things and so there's a dynamic here where someone like him who believes - this Max, who believes in faith and family, he still thinks Trump can beat this guy and that's a big part of the problem here.

COOPER: I want to check in with our Brian Todd, who's with a voter for Nikki Haley. Brian?

TODD: Right, Anderson. Thanks very much.

We have Sam Blackman here. Sam has lived here his entire life in this area of north - South Carolina. And he voted for Nikki Haley as governor, but voted for Donald Trump as president. We've encountered a few people today who've had that dynamic. What made you, I guess, change from voting for her as governor to voting for Trump for president?

SAM BLACKMAN: Well, I feel like Trump would just have a whole lot stronger stand and we need that right now, because we're going in the wrong direction right now, for sure. And we need to be a lot stronger around the world, not just around here.

TODD: In what way, do you think, we're going in the wrong direction and we need Donald Trump?

BLACKMAN: Well, I just feel like we look really soft to everybody else in the world and I feel like that just right now, a lot of other countries are taking advantage of us and we're tired of being taken advantage of.

TODD: If Donald Trump is convicted in any of the cases, you know he's got some legal cases ahead, if he's convicted in any of them, would that change your mind?

BLACKMAN: Well, they've had a hard time convicting him of anything so far. I guess it would have to depend on what it was. But right now, probably not.

TODD: Sam, thanks for talking to us. Good to meet you. Thanks. Thanks very much. Okay, take care.

All right, guys, that's - we've seen this a couple of times, as I mentioned, people who voted for Nikki Haley for governor of South Carolina, but switching over to Donald Trump for the presidential vote, kind of an interesting dynamic there. We're heading into the final few minutes before polls close here. One quick vignette here. We had a teenage voter come through here a short time ago and when that person cast his vote, one of the election officials here said, ladies and gentlemen, we have a first time voter. Everybody applauded. They say that's a tradition here. So that was kind of a nice thing to witness a few minutes ago.


TODD: Back to you.

COOPER: That's cool. Brian Todd, thanks so much. I'll come back to you a little bit later on.

Scott, you wanted to respond to something that ...

JENNINGS: Yes. Bakari, you were talking about the evangelical number and the voter that we talked to. I think the answer to your question is these voters aren't electing a church pastor. They wouldn't tell you that they're electing Donald Trump to be a moral role model.

SELLERS: That's okay.

JENNINGS: They believe they are electing someone ...

HUNT: I'm sorry, Scott.

JENNINGS: ... to stand out.

HUNT: We flash back to the '90s and Bill Clinton?

JENNINGS: (Inaudible) --

HUNT: Like, what happened? Like, what happened?

JENNINGS: Well, first of all, our party is now made up of mid-90s Democrats, that's true. That's who our - that who inhabits my party now, so I guess it makes no sense. But the reality is they think evangelical Christendom, everyone is in an existential crisis that our entire culture is stacked against it and is trying to destroy it and their values. And they're looking for someone to stand outside and guard the church door, not stand inside and do something. That is the answer.

SELLERS: Well, I mean, and you're - no, you're correct and Donald Trump does one thing extremely well, something better we've - than we've seen any candidate running for president in recent history, which is to engage in these culture wars and win them.


But that also comes with some downsides to the moral fabric of this country. We're having a conversation about morality. I mean, Donald Trump uses racism as political currency, and we've seen those things. And so that is where you have this clash, and we're going to see people come out with fever for Donald Trump and against Donald Trump.

COOPER: Voting ends in South Carolina very soon at 7 PM Eastern. We're awaiting the first results from polling places across the state and our first chance to potentially project the winner. Much more ahead, stay with us.



TAPPER: Voting is winding down in the South Carolina Republican presidential primary. We are nearing the top of the hour when polling places close and we get our first chance to potentially project the winner. We could soon learn if former president and GOP front runner Donald Trump is going to continue his winning streak and get a big victory, the one that he's banking on or if former South Carolina governor, Nikki Haley, pulls off a surprise in her home state after escalating her attacks on Trump and insisting she's in the race for the long haul.

With just minutes left to vote, let's check in with our correspondents. They're at key polling places. First to Omar Jimenez in Mauldin, South Carolina. Omar, what's happening there as the polls close?

OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I think winding down is the key word. We've seen rushes. We've seen lulls. This, at the end of the day, is what I would call a lull. But obviously, voters will come in here. You see those familiar privacy booths. We've got hundreds that have been voting here, 532 is the count so far and then we just got the number in. Around 66,000 have voted in this county, Greenville County.

We've been talking to voters over the course of the day. We've heard a wide range of opinions, as you can imagine. And I want to introduce you to one of those voters, Kalani West (ph).

KALANI WEST: Kalani (ph).

JIMENEZ: Kalani, excuse me. WEST: (Inaudible) ...

JIMENEZ: Great to see you. Tell me who you voted for and why.

WEST: So I voted for Nikki Haley. While me, myself, I'm not a Republican, I mainly wanted to kind of shift the narrative, especially with the Republican Party, and not allowing someone who I don't believe should be on the ballot - to not be on the ballot. So I didn't vote in the Democratic primary just because I didn't see the need to. And I thought it'd be more beneficial to vote in this one so that I could get Nikki Haley on there.

Because, I mean, truthfully speaking, I do like her as a person, even though I'm not a Republican myself and necessarily don't agree with everything that they're trying to push for. Out of everyone that was on the ballot listing, I believe that at least her morally and ethically, I do like a lot more.

JIMENEZ: Yes. And, for background, everyone here in South Carolina, it is an open primary. So you don't have to vote for your specific party. You can vote for anyone you want. You just can't vote twice. And there was low turnout in the Democratic primary where Joe Biden swept pretty heavily.

So there are a lot of folks like her who did not vote in the Democratic primary. Just based on people that you've spoken to, do you feel like Nikki Haley has a chance here?

WEST: I was actually really surprised because this time last year when they were kind of announcing who was going to be on the ballot, I mean, especially in this area that we live in, it's not a secret that a lot of people do love Trump. But I was actually surprised to see that she's been doing really well and people are actually pushing for her, which was surprising, but also like a good surprise. I wouldn't be angry, per se, if she was the one who - to win.

But I think it is really cool to see how - I think especially my younger generation are pushing for her more and kind of gaining opinions on their own and not just following what their parents' opinions were. And so I'm glad to see that she's actually doing a lot better than most people thought she was going to do.

JIMENEZ: Yes. Well, we will see. Kalani (ph), great to meet you.

Obviously, a big hill to climb here in South Carolina for the former governor, but she's not the first person we've spoken to today that have - that held off on their Democratic primary vote to vote against the former president in this primary. That said, at this particular polling location and in this county, that Trump is carried by double digits in the general elections of 2020 and 2016, there have been many Trump voters we've spoken to as well, kind of hiding the divide we've got here.

TAPPER: All right. Omar Jimenez, thank you so much. I really appreciate it.

Now let's go to Boris Sanchez. He's in Rock Hill, South Carolina.

Boris, set the scene for us in these final minutes of voting.

SANCHEZ: One voter just walked through the door, Jake, just minutes to go here. The election worker is very closely watching the clock as that voter gets her ID checked, she gets her ballot and she gets a chance to vote in the Republican primary.

We want to step outside to abide by election rules and speak to a voter that's been waiting to chat with us, Tabitha (ph).

TABITHA: Hi. Nice to meet you.

SANCHEZ: Very nice to meet you. You supported former President Donald Trump in the primary. Tell us why.

TABITHA: I just really love the different things that he's done for our country. I do know that there's a lot of controversy with how he's treated people or how he's acted. But as a Christian, I think that he's done really incredible things that stand by the values that I hold as a believer. And so, yes.

SANCHEZ: Any concerns about the criminal charges that he's facing and how they could impact the general election?

TABITHA: No. I think that it's really hard being a young person trying to get a hold of information in the news because there's so many voices. And so it's really hard to know what to believe and there's so many theories and stuff. And so I try to do my best to know what I can, but I definitely don't know everything.


SANCHEZ: So Nikki Haley was a very popular governor here in South Carolina. She served multiple terms. Did you have a moment where you thought about voting for her?

TABITHA: I did definitely look into her. One of the things that I found about her was that she didn't like her husband's name and so she changed it to Michael. And Michael's a great name. It's my husband's name. But the sight of character that that has in someone of not accepting who they are, I didn't super love that. But I mean, that's obviously just a super personal thing. There is other (inaudible) ...

SANCHEZ: ... she should drop out of the race or keep trying?

TABITHA: For future elections?

SANCHEZ: I mean, in this in this race in the primary, she has said that she's going to stay in until every ballot is counted. Do you think she should drop out and let Donald Trump be the nominee?

TABITHA: Oh, I definitely think that it'd be good to continue on unless it's something that's a threat to something that - I don't know, but I think it would be great to continue. I definitely don't believe in giving up, so ... SANCHEZ: Tabitha (ph), thank you so much for chatting with us. We appreciate you sharing your perspective. So, Jake, as you've heard now from multiple folks that we've spoken to, a number of Trump supporters out here in Rock Hill. It's an area where the former president campaigned last night. His campaign, according to folks that I've spoken to, that are close to the (inaudible) to really help him win big in South Carolina, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Boris, thanks so much. Really appreciate it.

Let's go over to the magic wall. Again, somebody else of faith in - the - a voter that we're talking to. And again, that voter of faith talking about how she supports Donald Trump and she was really happy with his presidency. Probably a lot of that, I'm guessing, but also based on polls and research, probably a lot of that has to do with the overturning of Roe v. Wade, which Donald Trump is responsible for, for those three Supreme Court justices he appointed.

KING: And all the federal judges below the Supreme Court level, that was one of the legacies, like it or not, watching at home of the Trump presidency. They did a fantastic job, by his perspective, in getting any dozens and dozens and dozens of conservative federal judges on the bench, including, as you noted, those three Supreme Court justices.

David Chalian mentioned earlier, more than six in 10 voters, I believe today, say they are evangelical Christians. You find a lot of them up here. Boris is here in Rock Hill. You find - this is called the Bible Belt area up here. Find them all across the state. Don't get me wrong, but you find them in much larger numbers - percentages up here, which is where turnout will matter.

So what are we going to watch for? We're going to be counting votes in four minutes - three to four minutes, we'll be counting votes. So that's where Boris was, right up here.

York County, it's the seventh largest county. Charlotte is right here. This is an area that has been growing up here. I wouldn't call it quite the Charlotte suburbs, but it has been growing. And again, if Nikki Haley is going to find higher educated, more affluent voters to help her, this would be a place. But in my travels there, and you're hearing it from our correspondents as they interview voters, this is Trump's party now, even though she is the former governor.

But we look here in the middle part of the state, I didn't mention this when you were here earlier. Richmond - Richland County, excuse me. This is where the state capital is, Columbia. There are 46 counties in South Carolina, and I'll show you the map in a minute. Donald Trump carried all but two. Richland was one of them. Marco Rubio won Richland and Charleston. Nikki Haley was for Marco Rubio in 2016, worth remembering.

But Trump was the hostile insurgent then, trying to take over the party and yet he won 44 of 46 counties in South Carolina when he was the new guy in the insurgents. So even then he was popular in the state. If Nikki Haley is going to have a chance, she has to win Richland County, and I would argue she has to win it quite big, second largest population-wise.

But to the voters we've been hearing from tonight, Jake, this is Greenville County. You were talking to one of our correspondents there earlier. It's 10 percent of the state population. This here is the more southern part of the state, if you will, Georgia, Alabama. This is very evangelical country, and Donald Trump expects, and is counting on running it up very big right here.

Gov. Haley has campaigned out here, trying to blunt that. Again, we can stop talking about polling now because we're going to be counting votes in two or three minutes. But the key part of the place for Governor Haley is here. This is what, in South Carolina, especially Charleston County, they call the low country. And you get down here, you're along the coast. It's gorgeous. It's beautiful. It's historic. It's more affluent. It is less Trumpy.

But again, I spent some time here a couple weeks ago. The former governor, Mark Sanford, no Trump fan, lost his job in Congress because he disagreed with Trump, but sometimes still expects Haley to win and - I mean, he expects Trump to win and win big. I was just texting with someone I used to know when he lived here, moved down here, wants to vote for Haley because he thinks Trump is a bad role model for his children, just finished voting, says he thinks Trump is going to win.

So when you look at the map, it is - let's do the 2016 map just so you can see it, because it just jumps out at me. When you look here and come back to the 2016, this was when Donald Trump was the new guy, right? When he was the new guy, it's only 33 percent, yeah.

TAPPER: Right. This is a primary. This is not against Joe Biden.

KING: Right. Right.

TAPPER: This is against Rubio and Cruz.

KING: And - yes, and everybody else left in the race at that point. And Marco Rubio won here and Marco Rubio won here. So everyone says, oh, but Nikki Haley was the former governor. She last ran in 2014. This is 2016. And so since then, this has become Donald Trump's party, without a doubt. This is the 2016 primary map.


Let's come back to tonight and see what we're looking for. We're going to get votes any minute now. Number one, Donald Trump's expecting a big win.