Businessman Donald Trump, who spent the week fighting shrinking poll numbers and a stinging rebuke from the Pope himself, is the projected winner of the South Carolina Republican primary, NBC News reported.
With 99 percent of the state's precincts reporting, Marco Rubio edged out fellow senator, Ted Cruz, for second place, with 22.5 percent of the vote compared to Cruz's 22.3 percent, Reuters reported.
In victory, Trump said: "A number of the pundits said, ... 'Well, if a couple of the other candidates dropped out, if you add their scores together, it's going to equal Trump.' They don't understand that as people drop out, I'm going to get a lot of those votes also."
According to NBC News exit poll data, 31 percent of white voters said they voted for Trump, the most among any GOP candidate. The data also said that 96 percent of voters identified themselves as white.
Trump's faith was called into question this week when Pope Francis said the GOP front-runner was "not Christian" because of his views on immigration.
In response, Trump said the pope would wish for a Trump presidency if ISIS were to attack the Vatican. NBC News exit poll data showed that 73 percent of voters in South Carolina supported temporarily banning Muslims from entering the U.S.
Trump's performance in South Carolina - the first primary in the South - gives him even more momentum moving forward, especially with "Super Tuesday" just nine days away.
Dr. Ben Carson and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, finished well behind Trump, Cruz of Texas, and Rubio of Florida.
"After tonight, this has become a three-person race, and we will win the nomination," Rubio said in a speech, acting very much like a victor. "Tonight here in South Carolina, the message is pretty clear. This country is now ready for a new generation of conservatives to guide us into the 21st century."
"First Iowa, then New Hampshire, now South Carolina ... each time defying expectations," Cruz said in a separate speech. "Indeed, the screaming you hear now, from across the Potomac, is the Washington cartel in full terror that the conservative grassroots are rising up."