February 21, 2016 7:27 pm
Updated: February 21, 2016 8:06 pm

Rebounding in South Carolina: Is Rubio on the road to recovery?

WATCH ABOVE: Donald Trump came out on top Saturday night forcing the once perceived front-runner Jeb Bush to bow out of the race. Trump now seems to be unstoppable... but is he? Aarti Pole reports.

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The room erupted in cheers and applause as Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio took to the stage. It would be easy to think he had delivered a victory in South Carolina, but in the Rubio camp “victory” may be a relative term.

In his post-primary speech, Rubio declared, “after tonight this has become a three person race and we will win the nomination.”

Rubio supporter Alexa Fordham says where he placed in the primary doesn’t matter.

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“We’ve spent all weekend calling tons of people, working so hard to help him out,” said Fordham. “I’m just so pumped. I mean, it’s great.”

READ MORE: Republican party’s Trump-hating stars start aligning behind Marco Rubio

Rubio did acknowledge the candidate who actually won South Carolina.

“I want to begin by congratulating Donald Trump,” Rubio said. “We haven’t had a chance to speak yet.”

It’s apparent Trump is getting more comfortable delivering victory speeches. After rebounding from a second place finish in Iowa to take both New Hampshire and all 50 delegates in South Carolina, Trump has been enjoying his recent string of success.

“There’s nothing easy about running for president. I can tell you,” said Trump to a crowd of more than a thousand in Spartanburg, South Carolina. “It’s tough. It’s nasty. It’s mean. It’s vicious. It’s beautiful, when you win it’s beautiful.”

WATCH: Donald Trump thanks supporters after winning South Carolina Primary

It was a record turnout for Republican primary voters in The Palmetto State. While 32.5 per cent cast a ballot in support of Trump, establishment candidate Marco Rubio and ultra conservative presidential hopeful Ted Cruz closed in a dead heat, with 22.5 per cent and 22.3 per cent respectively. That photo finish has intensified the battle over who can eliminate the billionaire front runner.

“We are the only campaign that has beaten and can beat Donald Trump,” contended Cruz, referring to his 3 point win over Trump in Iowa. But Cruz can be viewed as too extreme.

South Carolina GOP spokesperson Hogan Gidley says the subplot emerging from Saturday’s primary is Cruz’s poorer than expected performance in a state with a strong evangelical base. That, says Gidley, could have propelled him to first place.

“He was being Rubio by 5 to 7 points a few days before the primary and ended up losing,” said Gidley. “That’s a titanic shift from where he was in December to where he is now and he’s taking on some serious water, he’s going to have trouble moving forward.”

While some establishment Republicans believe Rubio’s rise could mean he’ll emerge as the GOP’s saviour, he has yet to win a state. But what may open the door for Rubio to gain ground is the collapse of the Jeb Bush campaign. With astonishingly low numbers in every contest, Bush folded his cards Saturday night.

“The people of Iowa and New Hampshire and South Carolina have spoken,” said an emotional Bush. “And I really respect their decision, so tonight I am suspending my campaign.”

WATCH: Jeb Bush thanks his supporters after bowing out of race for president

Bush has yet to endorse another candidate. Rubio addressed the campaign suspension of his former political ally during his speech Saturday, saying he has an “incredible affection and admiration” for Bush and his family. It’s expected, with the winnowing field there will be a push for candidates to back Rubio.

“He is the establishment candidate,” according to Gidley. “There’s going to be massive pressure for all the establishment candidates to get out and get their donors to coalesce around Rubio – and that will probably happen. But, i just don’t think this year is the year for the establishment candidate.”

In a diverse state like South Carolina, where racial politics run deep, the prospect of Trump presidency is terrifying.

READ MORE: Three-way feud escalates among Republican White House contenders

“When Donald Trump says, ‘make America great again’ people in my community hear make America white again,” said Joseph Darby with Charleston’s NAACP. “If that happens,” he adds “we’ve got to move, reopen the underground railroad and everybody moves to Canada.”

But the host of “Decode DC” warns people shouldn’t jump to conclusions about Trump just yet.

“67 per cent of people that voted yesterday, voted against Donald Trump — so what does that mean for his viability down the road?” asked host Jimmy Williams.

Contests in the coming weeks will offer more clarity on that. The Republican caucus in Nevada takes place this Tuesday, and in two weeks it’s onto “Super Tuesday”, when voters from 12 states and one territory head to the polls, and more than 500 Republican delegates are up for grabs.

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