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Republican Voters Head To South Carolina Polls


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Scott Simon is off this week. I'm Linda Wertheimer. The U.S. presidential primary season rolls on. Democrats are caucusing in Nevada today, and we'll hear about outreach efforts there in a moment. First, to South Carolina. The South Carolina GOP is holding its primary, and as Republicans head to the polls, we turn to Mike Gallagher for a read on the sentiment there. He's host of "The Mike Gallagher Show." It's syndicated by the Salem Radio Network. He is a contributor to Fox News. He's in Greenville, S.C., where he's based his broadcast this week. Mike Gallagher, good morning. Thank you for doing this.

MIKE GALLAGHER: Hey, Linda, as somebody who's done radio for 35 years, I'm a long admirer of your work, so it's real privilege to be able to visit with you this morning from the Palmetto State.

WERTHEIMER: Well, thank you. I have been covering politics for a little bit longer than you have.

GALLAGHER: (Laughter) Yes, you have, and I tip my hat to you (laughter).

WERTHEIMER: I can't recall, though, a presidential candidate feuding with a pope. How is Donald Trump's exchange with Pope Francis playing with the party faithful there in South Carolina?

GALLAGHER: Linda, we all say it, we've never seen anything like this, of course. And here, in South Carolina, which is a very prominent evangelical Christian state, it has divided people. To listen to people argue and debate about the merits of a guy like Trump has been a fascinating thing to observe. People, friends are arguing, families are being sort of torn apart because the fallback position is you can't be an evangelical Christian and support a guy who has had some of the positions of Mr. Trump. And yet, many evangelicals here seem to say we're not voting for a pastor. We're voting for a president. We'll get our spiritual guidance from the pastor, but we want a president who's going to build a wall and stand up to the establishment and not be beholden to any special interest groups or lobbyists. So that seems to be the message that resonates with a lot of people here, Linda.

WERTHEIMER: Now, rank-and-file Republicans in South Carolina and elsewhere believe that Washington is the enemy. They want someone to come and shake things up. South Carolina is also heavily evangelical, as you said. Now, Ted Cruz has made his bones in Washington by being a wrench in the wheels of government, and he's been very upfront with his faith. So what explains Donal Trump's popularity when there's someone like Ted Cruz who seems to tick all of Carolina's boxes?

GALLAGHER: You know, by everything on paper it would seem Ted Cruz would be the perfect candidate for South Carolina voters, and he still may be. I mean, the polls here have tightened, and he has gotten some momentum. Marco Rubio has had enormous support from the Republican establishment here in the state of South Carolina. It seems like the official GOP guy is Senator Rubio. And so this is really a battle for these three - between these three men to see who will emerge on top and who will finish strong in second place. I suspect Marco Rubio might have a stronger showing than has been predicted, but then again, with this cycle, every single prediction I've made has fallen on its - flat on its face.

WERTHEIMER: Well, we're glad to hear that.

GALLAGHER: (Laughter).

WERTHEIMER: If Donald Trump wins in South Carolina, does he win Super Tuesday? What do you think?

GALLAGHER: It's going to be a lot easier for him. You know, this is, as you know, the first in the South primary, but, boy, I think Trump will get a ton of momentum, a lot of wind at his back. But now a lot of people are saying it better very decisive and so, you know, the bets are on and the tongues are wagging. And it's a lot of fun to be in South Carolina today, that's for sure, Linda.

WERTHEIMER: That's Mike Gallagher. He's host of the syndicated "Mike Gallagher Show." Thank you very much.

GALLAGHER: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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