Donald Trump and Nikki Haley go head-to-head Saturday in South Carolina’s Republican presidential primary, with the ex-president set for victory in her home state as he closes in on the nomination.

The vote in the solid red state is of particular importance because it is likely to reveal the eventual Republican presidential nominee.

However the South Carolina primary goes is generally an indicator of how the rest of the Republican primaries will go. The one exception for this is when South Carolina picked Newt Gingrich over Mitt Romney in 2012, and Mitt Romney went on to win the overall Republican nomination.

Haley was a popular governor of the state before becoming Trump’s UN ambassador in 2017, but her old boss is backed by the local party establishment and nearly two-thirds of voters in opinion polling.

Haley lost the first four nominating contests to Trump who is looking to continue his unbeaten 2024 primary streak. A victory by Trump over his last remaining major GOP rival would further add to his momentum toward the party’s nomination.

Since the early nominating contests in Iowa and New Hampshire in January, the rhetorical fire has intensified between the two as the primary narrowed into a two-horse race.

Haley has urged voters to ditch the “chaos” that follows the ex-president, though that message has not won over voters in polls held so far in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and the US Virgin Islands. She is hoping her home state can help fuel a comeback.

She has also called for a “new generational leader that focuses on the solutions of the future instead of all the issues of the past.”

Despite being a popular former governor in the southeastern state, she’s down in polling by some 30 points ahead of Saturday’s vote and Trump is expected to win. However, she has said she is determined to stay in the race, even if she loses in South Carolina.

Underscoring his confidence, Trump told his supporters on the eve of the vote: “Honestly, we’re not that worried.”

But seeking to demonstrate that he is looking beyond Haley, Trump

is already sizing up a rematch against Biden, as no serious Democrats are challenging the incumbent president.

“We’re going to win this state and then we’re going to tell crooked Joe Biden, ‘You’re fired,’” he said.

“We are coming like a freight train in November (the general election will be held).”

In remarks released early to the US media, Trump will say in a speech later Saturday that “if we can break out of this Biden nightmare, we have it in our grasp to make America richer, safer, stronger, prouder and more beautiful than ever before.” Polls in the southern US state opened at 7am local time (11pm AET) and will close 12 hours later. South Carolinians do not have to indicate party allegiance when they register to vote, and are allowed to have their say in either the Democratic or the Republican primary.

Haley – a more traditional conservative who espouses limited government and a muscular foreign policy – will hope for votes from moderates, but the tactic did little for her as she lost to Trump in each of the first four nominating contests.

Trump – who faces four criminal indictments – is tightening his hold over the party as he pushes toward a second term in the White House.

Haley has sought to focus on the “chaos” that she says follows Trump, predicting that his total outlay on court cases this year could top $100 million.

“Everything he touches is chaos that leads to a loss,” she said Saturday. “How many more times do Republicans have to lose before they realise that maybe he’s the one that’s the problem?”

Haley refuses to quit

In common with Democrats, Haley has also been hitting Trump over his outlook on the international stage and oft-voiced admiration for the leaders of the world’s most authoritarian regimes.

She has blasted Trump’s reaction to the death of Russian dissident Alexei Navalny – in which he avoided criticism of President Vladimir Putin – and his threat to encourage Moscow to attack NATO nations that had not met their financial obligations.

But Haley’s central argument for months has been that polling shows her performing better than Trump in hypothetical match-ups with Biden.

She has vowed to compete in the Republican primary through “Super Tuesday” – when multiple states vote on March 5 – regardless of what happens in South Carolina.

Reproductive rights are likely to figure prominently in the election, with Trump avoiding taking a clear position on proposals for a nationwide abortion ban after appointing three Supreme Court justices who helped gut federal protections.

A wrinkle was added when Alabama’s supreme court ruled last week that frozen embryos can be considered children, signalling a new front in the debate and posing questions for in vitro fertilisation (IVF) clinics.

Trump – keenly aware the Alabama decision risks alienating moderate and women voters – voiced support Friday for preserving access to IVF programs, calling on the state’s legislature to “act quickly to find an immediate solution” to ensure it remained available.

– With AFP

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