South Carolina GOP Primary voters caught between Trump and the establishment

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign stop Friday, Feb. 19, 2016, in North Charleston, S.C. AP Photo/Matt Rourke

It’s hard to ignore the significance of South Carolina’s Republican Primary. The diverse southern state is believed to be more representative of America than either Iowa or New Hampshire. In the primary, there are more delegates up for grabs, and history has shown winning in South Carolina can propel a candidate toward the White House.

Since 1980, all but one of the Republican candidates who took the Palmetto state in the primaries, went on to become the GOP presidential candidate.  Against all odds, Donald Trump appears to be right on track.  The latest polls show he’s leading in support as South Carolinians head to the polls.

READ MORE: US Election Live: Clinton holds slight edge in Nevada, polls still open in South Carolina

“Donald Trump is from New York, he’s a business person, he’s not an establishment candidate,” College of Charleston Professor Gibbs Knotts said.

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“This is a southern state, it’s a more conservative place.  It’s the place of family values, I mean Donald Trump has been divorced several times, I mean he doesn’t on paper look like somebody who would appeal here, but he’s connecting with South Carolina voters because he’s talking about have having a real sense of patriotism and really tapping into some anger.”

That anger was evident at a Trump rally in North Charleston the day before the primary vote. Trump supporter Deb Enderson hasn’t voted in an election or primary for 15 years, but this time, she says she’s sold on Trump, and motivated to head to the polls.

“For me, it’s the jobs, closing the borders, doing something about ISIS,” said Enderson. Trump has the vote of her husband Chris too. “It’s the power he possess in his voice, that he’s going to be strong. I think it’s time for American to get strong again.”

WATCH: South Carolina Republican voters head to the polls
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South Carolina Republican voters head to the polls

While it’s expected many at polling stations across South Carolina will, like the Endersons, vote for Trump, establishment Republicans are seeking a more conventional candidate to coalesce around. Someone who can perhaps slow the momentum surrounding the reality TV star, that sentiment may have led to a campaign promoting voters to cast a ballot against Trump.

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Traveling to rallies in the US, the “Dump Across America” campaign has one message.

Aarti Pole / Global News

“We’re basically pushing anyone but Donald Trump,” said a campaign spokesperson who goes by the name of Hanksy. “Trump is an embarrassment to the United States of America,” he says, “and we do not want to be represented by a man who speaks like that and has those kinds of policies.”

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But Knotts says it will be a challenge for anyone to succeed in dulling Trump’s shine in the eyes of the candidate’s supporters. “Trump has been unstoppable so far,” says Knotts. “I mean he’s bullet proof, he’s in an argument with the Pope and I don’t even think that’s going to hurt him.”

READ MORE: How South Carolina got its reputation for ‘a foul brew’ of dirty politics

Still, Knotts believes a ringing endorsement from the state’s popular republican governor for establishment candidate Marco Rubio might push the junior senator from Florida to second place.  Rubio is battling for for that spot in South Carolina against Ted Cruz.

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Some voters believe Rubio is the conventional candidate middle ground republicans can rally around.

Columbia resident Kelly Olsen says her vote for Rubio was strategic. “I made my decision at the ballot box, and I made that decision because I think he’s probably the most viable candidate.”

There’s little question Trump will take South Carolina. But more establishment republicans, like Olsen, hope the second place winner will emerge out of this primary as an alternative they can get behind. Polls close in South Carolina tonight at 7pm ET.

WATCH: Donald Trump leading in South Carolina ahead of primary
Click to play video: 'Donald Trump leading in South Carolina ahead of primary'
Donald Trump leading in South Carolina ahead of primary

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