(CNN)Donald Trump will win the South Carolina Republican primary, CNN projects, a tremendous show of strength in the heart of the Deep South that validates his status as the GOP’s national front-runner.
Trump’s win, following his victory in New Hampshire earlier this month and a second place finish in the Iowa caucuses, gives the former reality television star a critical burst of momentum heading into Nevada’s Republican caucuses Tuesday and the sweep of 13 states voting on Super Tuesday, March 1.
His performance could unnerve the Republican establishment, since South Carolina has been a reliable barometer of conservative opinion after siding with the eventual nominee in every GOP presidential race since 1980, apart from in 2012. And, following his risky attack on George. W. Bush’s handling of terrorism and the Iraq war, Trump’s win provides more evidence that he can take positions that would undermine virtually any other politician.
A battle for second place is unfolding between Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who dueled over evangelical voters and exchanged bitter taunts in a feverish final week of campaigning in the Palmetto State.