Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz virtually tied for second in South Carolina. But where they won should give hope to Rubio and concern for Cruz.
Rubio edged out Trump in the two “establishment” parts of the state: Columbia and Charleston. Both regions have served as a firewall against conservative and insurgent candidates—both areas supported McCain in 2008 and Romney in 2012. Rubio also did well in other parts of the state, including some of the wealthier areas around Myrtle Beach and Hilton Head. Just like in Iowa last month, Rubio can claim that he can beat Donald Trump in more diverse, more metropolitan areas.
The results were less encouraging for Cruz. South Carolina’s so-called Upstate has some of the most evangelical counties in the country. They are mostly Baptist and less religiously diverse than the other parts of the state.These are must-win areas for any candidate needing the support of evangelical voters. Mike Huckabee won these counties in 2008; many also gave high support to Rick Santorum four years ago.
Cruz did not win any county, including the most conservative Upstate counties. Trump beat out Cruz and other social conservatives, just as Newt Gingrich won them four years ago.
Cruz also failed to come in second in all of the Upstate counties. Rubio edged out Cruz in two counties. Each county Rubio did better in are rural but located near more diverse communities: Lancaster County (near Rock Hill) and Oconee County (near Clemson).
The geography of the South Carolina primary fits the story coming out of the exit polls. Rubio did well among Republicans who want a candidate who can win. Trump voters want someone who can shake up Washington and “tell it like it is.” Cruz needs to secure most (if not all) of the evangelical and values-voters. He’s leading among these voters, but many of them are backing Rubio and Trump instead.
The next important date on the primary calendar is March 1, when Alabama, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and other states. We’ll have more on those states in future posts.