Results Saturday night from York, Chester, and Lancaster supported an overall lead across the state for Donald Trump in the GOP presidential primary.
In York County, Trump lead with 32 percent of the vote with 72 of 95 precincts reporting. In Lancaster, he had 33 percent of the vote, with all but one precinct reporting. In Chester, Trump won 42 percent of the vote.
Local Republicans said those results were in line with what they expected to see after listening to their constituents throughout the primary campaign.
York County Republican chairman Wes Climer recalled the large rally Trump held in Rock Hill last month, when 6,500 people filled the Winthrop Coliseum for the largest crowd of any campaign to visit the Rock Hill area.
“There was a tremendous amount of energy and excitement in that crowd, and that translated tonight,” Climer said.
Lancaster County GOP Chairman Brandon Newton said he expected Lancaster’s results to mirror the results statewide. Like many political watchers he was eying the race between Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio for second place, and who may ultimately emerge as the main challenger to Trump.
“In the rural areas, it’s Cruz everywhere, because the evangelical vote is much stronger there,” he said.
Newton said he expected to see more moderate results from the “bedroom communities” of Indian Land, which are growing so fast they were split from four into 10 precincts this year.
In Pleasant Valley, one of the larger precincts in Indian Land, Rubio narrowly lead for second place with 25 percent of the vote to Cruz’s 23.6 percent. Trump lead overall with 31 percent.
In some other areas, Rubio was outperforming Cruz. In Laurel Creek in Rock Hill, one of the wealthier precincts in York County, Rubio outpolled Trump 136 votes to 127. The rest of the field was Cruz third with 90, and Jeb Bush – who suspended his campaign on Saturday night – with 62 votes.
Voters who favored Trump expressed hope in his campaign pledge to “Make America Great Again.”
Tenara Brooks of Rock Hill, who owns a dog-grooming business, said she was attracted to Trump as a small-business owner herself.
“I’m a woman in America who owns her own business (and) rides a Harley,” she said. “If our vets can fight for our freedom, we have to make responsible voting decisions.”
Trump’s message didn’t appeal to everyone. Brittany Leake of York said she voted for Ben Carson because he’s “calm, level-headed, and he doesn’t attack or name-call.”
“In other words, he’s not Donald Trump,” she said.
Climer noted the strong showing of the perceived “outsider” candidates – not just Trump, but Cruz and Carson – were pulling in a large percentage of the Republican vote combined. The three had 66 percent of the vote in York County with 60 of 95 precincts reporting.
“The voters are clearly calling for a major change in Washington,” he said.
But Newton, citing Trump’s relatively small percentages in each of the three early primary states – winning in New Hampshire and South Carolina without polling higher than the mid-30s, and placing second in Iowa with less than 30 percent of the vote – said the question is whether Trump can grow his share of the vote as the field continues to narrow.
“The longer he’s not placing higher than the 40s, the longer the nomination process might go,” Newton said.
Trump seemed to be a clear favorite Saturday morning in heavily conservative northern York County.
Outside the Stateline precinct, near the North Carolina border, Fort Mill Precinct Number 5 at Flint Hill Fire Department and the Baxter precinct at Philadelphia United Methodist Church, voters told The Herald the country needed change – but the voters had different ideas of who should lead the charge.
York County officially had 2,200 absentee ballots cast before polls opened Saturday, almost double the number of absentees in the 2012 Republican primary, when former House speaker Newt Gingrich scored an early upset over eventual nominee Mitt Romney.
County elections director Wanda Hemphill said precincts had reported few technical problems by midday. Minor problems with the state’s electronic voting machines were quickly corrected, Hemphill said, and wait times have mostly been short.
Andrew Dys contributed