NORTH AUGUSTA (South Carolina)• • Billionaire real estate mogul Donald Trump has told South Carolina voters to be wary of aircraft giant Boeing opening a plane finishing plant in China, saying he would not let it happen if he were president.
"Be careful" because Beijing is "making Boeing build this massive plant in China" in order to secure orders, Mr Trump warned.
Should Boeing, which has a major plant in South Carolina, launch operations in the Asian giant as it announced last year, it is "bye-bye to South Carolina", he told an exuberant crowd on Tuesday at a rally in North Augusta. "It won't happen if I'm president, by the way."
Mr Trump played up his international business acumen at the rally ahead of Saturday's Republican primary, the third statewide contest in the long road to the nomination and the first in the US South.
He leads handily in South Carolina, with a new CNN poll released on Tuesday showing him with 38 per cent support over arch-conservative Ted Cruz, who has 22 per cent.
"Why aren't they beating me?" Mr Trump taunted, to loud cheers in North Augusta. Even with his commanding lead, he was calling on supporters to crowd the polls.
More than halfway through his speech, a protester interrupted him, but was shouted down by supporters. She was escorted out with her middle fingers raised in the air.
With the primary nearing, Mr Trump has become yet again the focus of attacks by Republican rivals.
First-term Senator Cruz piled on Mr Trump at a rally in Anderson. Clearly speaking of Mr Trump and mindful of the large evangelical population in the state, Senator Cruz called on Americans not to nominate and elect a Republican who has "defended abortion or partial birth abortion for the first 60 years of his life".
He also sought to boost his support among military veterans in South Carolina, taking to the decks of the famed World War II battleship USS Yorktown to declare he would restore US military might if elected, after "years of neglect" by President Barack Obama.
Senator Marco Rubio, another freshman US senator, told a town hall in Beaufort early on Tuesday that his faith would help guide his decisions in the Oval Office.
Mr Jeb Bush, riding high a day after his brother, former president George W. Bush, hit the campaign trail with him for the first time, sought to present himself as the candidate most capable of rebuilding the military by visiting a gun manufacturer in state capital Columbia on Tuesday, where he spoke to staff and walked away with his own personally engraved handgun.
The former Florida governor posted a photo of the pistol on Twitter with the one-word caption "America". It got more than 7,000 likes and 9,000 retweets within 11/2 hours of its posting - a record for his account. An Internet meme also took off, with others posting different photos under the same heading.
Mr Bush is the consummate establishment candidate. But Trump supporter Jennifer Twilley said Mr Trump's status as a political outsider made him ideal for the job.
"I don't really want an established politician any more," said Ms Twilley, an engineer who was wearing a pink button that read "Hot Chicks for Donald Trump". "I don't care about the drama, I just want him to fix the financial problems."
On the Democratic front, former secretary of state Hillary Clinton leads in South Carolina by 56 per cent over Senator Bernie Sanders' 38 per cent, according to the CNN poll. The Democrat primary in the state will take place on Feb 27.