(Bloomberg) — After the frenetic one-two step of the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary, the Republican presidential contest zooms to South Carolina, a state that typically favors establishment candidates. But this year, voters’ attention is tuned to Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, the victors of the early contests—and candidates who have alarmed the party by bucking the establishment order.
In a Bloomberg Politics/Purple Strategies focus group conducted by With All Due Respect co-host Mark Halperin on Wednesday evening, South Carolina Republican voters praised the Texas senator for being “trustworthy,” “religious,” and “steadfast,” but said the billionaire would win the Feb. 20 primary. Trump enjoyed a 16-point lead in an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll in late January.
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The participants were from the Columbia, South Carolina, area and represented a variety of ages and socioeconomic and educational backgrounds. All respondents said they are registered Republicans and likely to vote in the state’s Republican presidential primary.
When recruited, seven of the respondents said they were undecided, and the three remaining respondents reported leaning toward a candidate but said they could change their mind before the primary. Qualitative research results cannot be statistically analyzed or projected onto the broader population at large. As is customary, respondents’ last names aren’t used and they were compensated for their participation.
The 10-person group included seven undecided voters and three who were leaning toward a candidate but said that they might change their minds.
Billie, a tech manager, said Cruz was “steadfast. Decisive. I mean, he just seems to be a leader.”
A majority said Cruz would be a strong general-election candidate, in part because of his record of opposition to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA).
“Very believable,” said Dale, a man employed in insurance sales.
“I like that he knows the Constitution inside and out,” said Kari, who works in accounting. “He’s the only one who got on that floor and fought Obamacare. And he did what he said he was going to do, which I like.”
Kari said Glenn Beck’s radio show had helped shape her positive opinion of Cruz. She was one of several who cited the radio host.
“I’ve listened to him for years and I trust his opinion,” Billie said.
Sandy, who works in customer service, cited a different source of information about Cruz: her house of worship. “Last week, we talked at church, and a lot of people just had very positive things to say about him,” she said.
Despite most of the group’s favorability toward Cruz—eight of 10 said they’d back him versus Trump in a one-on-one match—nine said Trump would win the Palmetto State primary. Indeed, Trump’s overall support means that relative weakness with undecided voters doesn’t necessarily threaten his chances.
“I think he’s very brave to have no political background and to jump out there and run for the highest office in our nation,” said Terrie, a bookeeper.
“He’s espousing what the people are feeling,” said Dan, a retiree. “The people are tired of people in the Washington D.C. doing whatever they want, not caring about what their constituents say. I think Donald Trump is at least listening.”
“I think it’s the ones that are the most passionate that will get out and vote,” said Billie. “And one thing that Trump does is he—he has a very passionate crowd of people that follow him. And I think the thing that’s going against a lot of the other candidates is, people are tired of the same old same old. They want somebody who is an outsider.”
“And he is that person,” she said, adding, with a half-whisper, “As much as I don’t like him.”