Republicans in South Carolina cast first-in-South ballots

Voters across South Carolina are casting ballots for the Republican nomination for president in the state’s traditional first-in-the-South primary. By the end of Saturday, the number of Republicans who have a voice in deciding the party’ 2016 candidate will have more than doubled. In Iowa and New Hampshire combined, about 461,000 voters participated. South Carolina GOP party leaders are predicting closer to 650,000 votes cast Saturday. Since starting the first-in-the-South primary in 1980, the party long prided itself in picking the eventual GOP nominee. But that streak ended in 2012 when Newt Gingrich won the state with 40 percent of the vote to Mitt Romney’s 28 percent.

Here are snapshots of voters who went to the polls Saturday:

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Bill Parker, 51, said his country needs a straight talker who isn’t financially tied to anyone. So he voted for Donald Trump.

“He’s willing to shake things up. He’s not a politician. He’s a businessman. And you know what, that’s what we need. We don’t need the status quo,” Parker said outside the Aldersgate Methodist Church in Greenville.

Parker said the United States needs to get tough on terrorist groups like ISIS and stop illegal immigration, which he said is costing the country jobs. So Trump got his vote.

“He’s the only one with guts to say ‘We’re going to build a wall.’ The others might say it, but you know they’re never going to follow through. It’s all talk. With Trump, at least you know he’s going to take action, he’s going to fight,” Parker said.

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Steve Wilbourne used the process of elimination to eventually pick John Kasich.

The 46-year-old owner of a financial software company started off knowing he couldn’t vote for Donald Trump.

“(Ben) Carson is my favorite in the race but I don’t think he’ll make it through the election. As much as I like the Bush family I think that’s played. And I think Marco Rubio is too young. So it came down to (Ted) Cruz and Kasich and I think Kasich is someone who can unite the country and win the general election,” Wilbourne said at an armory in Mount Pleasant.

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Allison Reilly, 18, drove home 150 miles from Coastal Carolina University to her parents’ house in Columbia to cast the first ballot of her life — for Marco Rubio.

She liked Rubio’s positions on national security. But almost as important was the education she received paying close attention to a political campaign.

“It’s been crazy,” Reilly said of the past two months.

She decided Ted Cruz can’t be trusted. She liked the energy Donald Trump injected into the campaign, but felt he didn’t have the right temperament to be president.

Reilly said many of her friends are more excited about Sen. Bernie Sanders from Vermont, who will be on the ballot next Saturday for the state’s Democratic presidential primary.

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Don Koonce, 71, struggled with his decision. Donald Trump and Ted Cruz scared him. He said he really liked Jeb Bush, but couldn’t cast his vote for the former Florida governor as his position in the polls faded.

So the media marketing company owner and former U.S. Navy commander voted for Marco Rubio.

“Honestly, I don’t know if Rubio would be the best on national security. I still think Jeb Bush would be the best candidate. But I don’t think he could win, and we need someone who can win,” Koonce said outside the Aldersgate Methodist Church in Greenville.

He said the field was disappointing. No one talked seriously about the issues or had the leadership qualities necessary to become the nation’s most powerful leader. “I don’t think any of them do. I’m ready to move to Fiji,” he joked.

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