Trump wins South Carolina primary; Bush suspends campaign

Trump, Clinton etch big wins
Trump, Clinton etch big wins   

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."

Perhaps one of the biggest developments on Saturday came from former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who many believed a year ago to be a front-runner for the GOP presidential candidacy and who raised tens of millions of dollars since. Bush suspended his campaign on Saturday after yet another weak showing in the South Carolina primary.

"In this campaign I've stood my ground, refusing to bend to the political winds. We put forward detailed, innovative conservative plans to address the mounting challenges we face," he said in a speech.

"But the people of Iowa, the people of New Hampshire and South Carolina have spoken, and I really respect their decision. So, tonight I am suspending my campaign," Bush said as he choked up.

For years, pundits have speculated whether Bush would make a run, further continuing the family's dynasty by possibly having a third Bush in the White House. But even after declaring a run, Bush never gained significant traction and was further marginalized when Donald Trump entered the race.

Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton won the Nevada Democratic caucases, leveraging the strong support she and her husband, the former president, have had for years among casino unions and the state's Latinos.

The result denied Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont the breakthrough win he had fought for, Reuters reported, adding that with 90 percent of precincts reporting, the former first lady led with 52.6 percent of the vote to Sanders' 47.4 percent.

"You turned out in every corner of this state, with determination and support, hotel and casino workers who never wavered, students with too much debt and small business owners who never go off the clock," Clinton said in a speech. "This one is for you."

"Now I'm heading on to Texas, Bill is on his way to Colorado; the fight goes on [and] the future that we want is within our grasp."

Voter turnout was about 80,000 in Nevada.

Data from the NBC News entrance poll showed 60 percent of the electorate said they were white, while 12 percent identified themselves as black and another 20 percent said they were Latino. Key to the vote was Clark County, where Las Vegas is located and the majority of the state's registered voters.

Clinton's victory shifts momentum in her favor, heading into the South Carolina Democratic primary, which is scheduled to be held next Saturday, Feb. 27. South Carolina is expected to have a large African American voter turnout, a strong base for Clinton in the past.

Nevada was supposed to be a tough battle. An earlier poll also showed Sanders of Vermont handily leading Clinton among voters under age 45, while the former Secretary of State dominated among voters over 45.

"I am very proud of the campaign we ran. Five weeks ago we were 25 points behind and we ended up in a very close election. And we probably will leave Nevada with a solid share of the delegates," Sanders told NBC News in a statement.

"I am also proud of the fact that we have brought many working people and young people into the political process and believe that we have the wind at our back as we head toward Super Tuesday. I want to thank the people of Nevada for their support that they have given us and the boost that their support will give us as we go forward."

Clinton held a slight lead over Sanders in Nevada entering Saturday, according to the latest polling data.

"I believe that, when Democrats assemble in Philadelphia in July, at that convention, we are going to see the results of one of the great political upsets in the history of the United States," he said in a speech.

Clinton beat Sanders by a slim margin in Iowa, but Sanders surprised pundits and experts by winning handily in the New Hampshire primary.

—The Associated Press contributed to this report.