WASHINGTON, Feb. 20 (UPI) -- Donald Trump won the South Carolina GOP primary by double digits, solidifying his status as frontrunner in the race to be the Republican nominee for president.
Trump was declared the winner relatively early in the night, as Sens. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio wound up battling for second place most of the night. The final tally found Rubio in second place, followed by Cruz, Bush, Kasich, and Carson.
Trump had a five-point lead in an NBC/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll released Friday, winning by more than double despite his battling negative comments from the Pope, who said his views were not in line with the teachings of Jesus, and defending 2003 remarks that supported the United States' invasion of Iraq.
"We will never, ever forget South Carolina. We will never ever forget our great volunteers and all the people who have helped us so much," Trump said. "Let's go have a big win in Nevada... Let's put this thing away and make America great again."
Trump congratulated Cruz and Rubio for the their finishes, but expressed surprised at television pundits who predicted the second and third place finishers would pick up voters as candidates drop out of the race.
"I'm going to get a lot of those votes also," Trump said. "I think we're going to do very, very well."
Cruz and Rubio battled for second place, and wound up separated by less than 1 percent in the final tally, now insisting they are each best fit to unseat Trump at the top of the polls.
"We're the only campaign that has and can defeat Donald Trump," Cruz told his supporters after asking for a moment of silence for former Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who died last week. Cruz said his campaign has continued to "defy the pundits" by finishing in second for the second race in a row.
While Kasich's chief strategist John Weaver speculated only four candidates would remain in the race after the primary, the New York Times reported, Rubio said the race was down to three candidates.
Kasich's campaign had already shifted its efforts out of the state, accepting there was no way to win there, but Weaver said during the day that whatever result the governor had on the race -- in the hope of pushing a candidate to drop out -- would be beneficial to Kasich.
Early in the day, state officials though they might see record turnout, which turned out to be true as the previous record set in 2012, 603,770, was beaten by more than 100,000.