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South Carolina Republican Party can cancel its 2020 presidential primary, judge rules

Trump in South Carolina
Then-candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally in North Charleston, S.C., in February 2016.
(Jim Watson / AFP/Getty Images)

A judge on Wednesday upheld the South Carolina Republican Party’s decision not to hold a 2020 presidential primary, a move taken by several states in erecting hurdles for the long-shot candidates challenging President Trump.

In her order, Circuit Judge Jocelyn Newman wrote the law did not “give Plaintiffs a legal right to a presidential preference primary, and the Court will not substitute its own judgment for that of the General Assembly or the SCGOP.”

Earlier this year, former South Carolina Congressman Bob Inglis sued state Republicans, saying the party’s decision to skip a primary deprives him and others “of the ability to vote for the candidate of their choice in South Carolina’s famous (and particularly influential) ‘First in the South’ primary.”

South Carolina is among several states that have canceled Republican primaries and caucuses next year, an effort that helps Trump consolidate his support as Democrats work to winnow their large candidate field. The move, taken in September in South Carolina by the state party’s executive committee, is not unusual for the party of the White House incumbent seeking reelection.

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Challengers have emerged to Trump, including former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld and former Illinois Rep. Joe Walsh. Mark Sanford, a former congressman and governor from South Carolina, entered the race but left after two months.

In years past, both Republicans and Democrats have cut state nominating contests when an incumbent president from their party has sought a second term. In 1984, South Carolina GOP leaders opted to call off their primary as President Reagan sought reelection. In 2004, the GOP again canceled the state’s primary, with leaders deciding instead to endorse President George W. Bush’s reelection.

The South Carolina Democratic Party didn’t hold presidential primaries in 1996 or in 2012, when Presidents Clinton and Obama were the incumbents.


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