The Republican race for a candidate to take on President Joe Biden in November’s election continues to be a two-person show, with Saturday’s South Carolina primary the latest stage. Despite his considerable court entanglements, former president Donald Trump appears to have the nomination wrapped up with a bow. Yet former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley refuses to quit, even with the potential looming of a defeat in her home state.

“At this point, her path to the nomination looks very unlikely,” said Virginia Tech political expert Caitlin Jewitt, who answered questions about the shape of the race through the South Carolina primary, the Super Tuesday contest on March 5, and beyond.

Q: Does Nikki Haley have any chance of winning the South Carolina primary?

“Given recent polling numbers, it looks unlikely that Haley will pull off a win in her home state of South Carolina, where she was twice elected governor. It will be important for her to do better than expected, as she did in New Hampshire, in order to give her some momentum headed into Super Tuesday.”

Q: What factors might work in Haley’s favor?

“South Carolina has an open primary, which means any registered voter, regardless of party affiliation, can participate. This should be helpful to Haley who tends to do better with independents.”

Q: How will the race change come Super Tuesday?

“More than a third of all Republican delegates are at stake on Super Tuesday. Many of these states will use proportional representation with a trigger to allocate delegates. This means that if a candidate surpasses a certain threshold — usually 50% — he or she is awarded all the delegates for the state. In what is effectively a two-person race, that is very likely to occur, meaning the candidate that wins states will amass a large delegate lead.” 

Q: What’s the outlook for the candidates if Haley stays in the ring past Super Tuesday?

“Towards the middle of March, many states will start using winner-take-all delegate allocation rules. This will advantage the front-runner, Donald Trump, and make it even harder for Haley to catch up.” 

Q: Why is Haley staying in the race, despite the unlikeliness that she wins? 

“There are many reasons a candidate stays in the race, beyond trying to actually win the nomination. A presidential candidacy increases name recognition, promotes one’s brand, lays the groundwork for a future run, and is a try-out of sorts for other offices — for example, Cabinet positions, or the vice-presidency. In Haley’s case, she is well-funded by influential elites, allowing her to hang on and voice a distinct viewpoint. By staying in the race, she is positioning herself as the alternative to Trump, which may provide useful, depending on what happens in Trump’s legal battles.” 

About Jewitt 
Caitlin Jewitt is an associate professor in the Virginia Tech Department of Political Science and the associate department chair. Her book, The Primary Rules: Parties, Voters, and Presidential Nominations, explores how the electoral rules, put in places by the states and parties, shape the presidential nomination process, affecting voters. Her research focus includes campaigns and elections, public opinion, political parties, and presidential primaries and caucuses. See her bio.

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