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Trump attends college football game in key early-voting state of South Carolina

Former President Donald Trump arrives at the South Carolina-Clemson football game on November 25, 2023, in Columbia, South Carolina.

Former President Donald Trump attended a highly anticipated rivalry football game in South Carolina on Saturday as he campaigns in the key early-nominating state ahead of next year’s Republican presidential primary.

The Palmetto Bowl is an annual matchup between the University of South Carolina and Clemson University, the two largest universities in the state, and is taking place this year in the state capital of Columbia. Gov. Henry McMaster, a University of South Carolina alumnus who has endorsed Trump, recently said that the former president had a “standing invitation” to attend the game.

Trump watched the game from a box and went onto the field at halftime with McMaster. The former president briefly stood on the 50-yard line and waved to the crowd, receiving cheers and some boos. Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who has endorsed Trump, was also in attendance with the former president.

Trump, the front-runner for the GOP nomination, maintains a commanding lead over his primary rivals in South Carolina, according to a recent CNN poll, which found the state’s former governor, Nikki Haley, as his strongest challenger but still a distant second. Haley’s campaign did not respond when asked whether the Clemson alumna would be attending Saturday’s game.

South Carolina is one of the earliest contests on the Republican nominating calendar next year, holding its GOP primary on February 24 after Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada. The state was key to Trump securing the GOP presidential nod in 2016, as his victory in that year’s South Carolina primary helped shape his path to the nomination. The former president has visited the state several times this year, including most recently for a campaign event in Summerville in September.

Besides McMaster, Trump enjoys the support of several other top South Carolina Republicans, including Graham, Lt. Gov. Pamela Evette and US Reps. Joe Wilson, William Timmons and Russell Fry.

Earlier Saturday, Trump criticized the hostage deal reached between Israel and Hamas, asserting on Truth Social that no Americans have been released as a part of the deal yet because there is “no respect for our country or our leadership.”

Trump’s post came after a US official said American citizens are not expected to be part of the second wave of hostages released on Saturday.

However, the White House said it remains “hopeful” three American citizens will be part of the negotiated hostage release in the coming days.

President Joe Biden told reporters Friday afternoon that the US did not know when the American citizens being held hostage would be released but said it was his “hope and expectation it’ll be soon.”

In a separate post, Trump claimed, “Hamas now wants a better deal for hostages. This is not going to end well!”

The post appeared to refer to the delay in the release of expected hostages and prisoners on Saturday. That dispute has since been resolved through mediation, CNN previously reported, according to Qatar’s foreign ministry spokesperson.

In October, Hamas released two American hostages on “humanitarian grounds.”

Saturday’s Palmetto Bowl wasn’t Trump’s first stop at a football game this campaign cycle. The former president attended a matchup between Iowa State University and the University of Iowa in September and stopped by a tailgate before the game. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a rival for the GOP nomination, also attended the game in Ames, Iowa.

This story has been updated with additional information.

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