COLUMBIA -- Older voters are dependable voters.
That was never more true than Saturday, when more than a third of the voters who braved frigid wind and rain to cast ballots in the GOP primary were 60 and older, exit polling showed.
And one of their own, 71-year-old U.S. Sen. John McCain of Arizona, won the lion's share of their votes, propelling him to a close victory over former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.
McCain would be the oldest man ever elected to the presidency, but that didn't stop older voters from picking him.
Never miss a local story.
The senator won more than 40 percent of the 60-and-older vote, outpacing the roughly 24 percent received by Huckabee.
South Carolina was thought to be particularly fertile ground for Huckabee, a Baptist preacher who rode his religious roots to a surprising victory in Iowa.
Indeed, almost 60 percent of those surveyed described themselves as evangelical or born-again Christians.
Huckabee won about 40 percent of their votes but failed to swamp McCain, who got about 27 percent of the evangelical or born-again vote.
The heavily evangelical Piedmont was divided between McCain and Huckabee.
McCain won by large margins in the Lowcountry, where many retirees and military families live.
In the Midlands, the race was just about even, with Huckabee enjoying a slight edge.
Illegal immigration generated heated debate in earlier primaries, but voters here said the economy was their top concern.
South Carolina ranks third in the country with an unemployment rate of 6.6 percent.
About 40 percent of those polled said the economy was the most important issue facing the country.
Those voters split their support between McCain and Huckabee.
Just over a quarter of voters said illegal immigration was the nation's top issue. Huckabee had only a slight edge over McCain in winning their support.
The senator from Arizona had been heavily criticized by some conservatives because he supports a plan that eventually allow illegal immigrants to become citizens eventually.
More than half of those surveyed Saturday said illegal immigrants should be deported to the country they came from. Even though McCain does not share that view, more than a quarter of those who do voted for him.
President Bush was not on the ballot Saturday, but he is on the minds of voters as the race to succeed him unfolds.
Two-thirds of those surveyed said they have positive feelings about the Bush administration.
Those voters were evenly split between Huckabee and McCain.
Just more than half of those surveyed said they were satisfied but not enthusiastic about the Bush administration.