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Trump has already endorsed McKissick, who went so far as to cancel the 2020 presidential primary in the state when the president ran for reelection. But in Wood’s telling, it was he who carried the true Trump mantle by fighting to overturn election results in Georgia while McKissick did too little to add his voice to the “Stop the Steal” movement.

An adherent of the QAnon conspiracy theory, Wood contends Trump won the election in a landslide and is still president. Speaking without notes in a style that blends the skills of a preacher and an accomplished trial lawyer, Wood — who first gained fame as the attorney for the family of JonBenét Ramsey and also for Richard Jewell, who was wrongly accused of the Atlanta Olympics bombing — has built a candidacy around his support of Trump, whom Wood said he supported in 2016 because he thought chaos was good for the country.

“We need some chaos in the Republican Party in South Carolina. Somebody needs to shake it up,” Wood said Tuesday in the city of Aiken to applause and laughter. “So here I am, Mr. Shaker.”

A day earlier, Wood heckled McKissick during a speech at a Hampton County GOP event and suggested the incumbent doesn’t care about stopping pedophiles. The two then had a face-to-face confrontation where McKissick swiped at Wood for raising vague allegations about “Chinese pornography.” The chairman’s supporters inevitably describe Wood as deranged, pointing out that the Georgia Bar is investigating his conduct and wants Wood to undergo a psychiatric evaluation.

The acrimony boiled over notably in Greenville County, the largest Republican stronghold in the state, earlier this month. Bearing “Stop the Steal” signs, pro-Wood activists accused outgoing county GOP Chair Nate Leupp of rigging local party elections as they picketed the local party office and Leupp’s place of employment, a Christian music store called Majesty Music.

“There’s a lot of crazy going on in South Carolina,” Leupp said, dismissing the Wood-backing activists as “pitchfork- and torch-bearers.”

“All the politicos are buzzing with the same question: what in the world is going on South Carolina? You just can’t make this stuff up,” he said. “Big personalities are using a national narrative about Trump to their own advantage.”

The Greenville County GOP produced a split result when it held its county convention April 13. The county party chose a slate of new leaders, but didn’t elect two of the men most responsible for recruiting Wood to run for state party chair, Jeff Davis and Pressley Stutts.

Borrowing a tack from Trump, Stutts disputed the outcome, telling the Greenville News that he was “not buying” election results that were tabulated electronically in the virtual convention.

Due to the organizing efforts of Stutts and Davis, however, an overwhelming number of the 79 delegates the Greenville GOP elected to send to the May 15 state party convention support Wood.

In total, 870 delegates will vote at the state convention for a new chair. McKissick backers believe he’s well ahead in the delegate count over Wood, largely due to the chair’s longstanding party connections, Wood’s late start and his lack of deep ties in South Carolina. McKissick also presided over big successes for the party up and down the ballot in 2020.

Out of concern about the spread of Covid and the inability to secure an adequate venue in the state capital of Columbia, the state GOP on Wednesday decided it won’t hold a single large in-person state convention to pick the next chair. Instead, county parties will meet in-person, vote on paper ballots locally or at regional meetings, and report the results into the state meeting, where the final results will be tabulated publicly.

Already, Wood’s supporters are casting doubt on the integrity of the election process. Davis accuses the party establishment of “cheating” by rigging the delegate process, a claim disputed by party officials. He said some county party officials have refused to follow party rules concerning delegate names and qualifications.

“People move here and think South Carolina is a bastion of conservatism. No. We’re a bastion of the RINO elite establishment that needs to be taken out,” Davis said. “They are afraid because this will obviously have an effect on the 2024 election. In 2016, the establishment … did its damnedest to stop Donald Trump. I don’t think the establishment wants another Donald Trump. South Carolina is first in the South. We have a lot of influence on who will be the nominee.”

Davis predicted problems for former South Carolina GOP Gov. Nikki Haley, who is eyeing a presidential bid in 2024 but has earned the enmity of grassroots conservatives unhappy with her after she criticized Trump.

Former state party chair Chad Connelly, a McKissick supporter, agreed with Davis’s comments about South Carolina’s place in the GOP firmament, but said that electing Wood as chair would cause needless problems for a party that wants to win back the White House and keep the state red.

Connelly referred to Wood and those who recruited him “kamikazes, ne’er-do-wells and malcontents.”

“They’re not Republicans. They’re not conservative. They’re anarchists,” Connelly said, labelling Wood an outsider as well. “I’ve had clothes at the dry cleaner longer than Lin Wood has been a resident of South Carolina.”

McKissick’s backers also blame Wood for the GOP strife in Georgia and the party’s loss of two Senate seats there on Jan. 5 — Wood and other pro-Trump activists had suggested boycotting the election because they believed Republican Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue didn’t do enough to question the November election results.

But former South Carolina Republican Gov. Mark Sanford said Republicans are blame-shifting from the root of the problem: Trump, his spreading of conspiracy theories and his destabilizing influence on the GOP overall.

Sanford marveled at how Wood could gain traction against McKissick, who recently oversaw an election where Republicans flipped a congressional seat, sheriffs races, and state House and Senate seats. Sanford, who made a brief 2020 primary challenge against Trump, pointed out that McKissick canceled the 2020 GOP primary in the state, robbing the state’s former governor of the opportunity to have a forum to discuss traditional conservative issues like the national debt and deficits.

“His candidacy is yet another manifestation of the Trump phenomenon. It’s varying degrees of crazy, a cult of personality,” Sanford said.

“What this really says is the party is wrestling with its own Trump demons. It’s one version of Trump versus another, more rabid version of Trump, but it’s all crazy,” Sanford said. “The fact that Wood can run and there’s any appetite for a new guy from out of state who has not been a part of GOP politics in South Carolina is unusual, but that fits with the era of Trump.”

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Guinea declares end to latest Ebola outbreak

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“I commend the affected communities, the government and people of Guinea, health workers, partners and everyone else whose dedicated efforts made it possible to contain this Ebola outbreak,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General.

“Based on the lessons learned from the 2014–16 outbreak and through rapid, coordinated response efforts, community engagement, effective public health measures and the equitable use of vaccines, Guinea managed to control the outbreak and prevent its spread beyond its borders.” The U.N. said it will continue to provide post-illness care.

The CDC welcomed the news in a statement.

“I commend the government and first responders in Guinea for ending the country’s Ebola outbreak,” said CDC Director Rochelle Walensky. “Our heartfelt sympathies are with the people who lost loved ones to this disease. CDC remains committed to supporting survivor programs and helping strengthen global preparedness and response capacities that can prevent or extinguish future Ebola outbreaks.”

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Hard-line judiciary head wins Iran presidency amid low turnout

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In initial results, former Revolutionary Guard commander Mohsen Rezaei won 3.3 million votes and moderate Abdolnasser Hemmati got 2.4 million, said Jamal Orf, the head of Iran’s Interior Ministry election headquarters. The race’s fourth candidate, Amirhossein Ghazizadeh Hashemi, had around 1 million votes, Orf said.

Hemmati offered his congratulations on Instagram to Raisi early Saturday.

“I hope your administration provides causes for pride for the Islamic Republic of Iran, improves the economy and life with comfort and welfare for the great nation of Iran,” he wrote.

On Twitter, Rezaei praised Khamenei and the Iranian people for taking part in the vote.

“God willing, the decisive election of my esteemed brother, Ayatollah Dr. Seyyed Ebrahim Raisi, promises the establishment of a strong and popular government to solve the country’s problems,” Rezaei wrote.

The quick concessions, while not unusual in Iran’s previous elections, signaled what semiofficial news agencies inside Iran had been hinting at for hours: That the carefully controlled vote had been a blowout win for Raisi amid the boycott calls.

As night fell Friday, turnout appeared far lower than in Iran’s last presidential election in 2017. At one polling place inside a mosque in central Tehran, a Shiite cleric played soccer with a young boy as most of its workers napped in a courtyard. At another, officials watched videos on their mobile phones as state television blared beside them, offering only tight shots of locations around the country — as opposed to the long, snaking lines of past elections.

Balloting came to a close at 2.a.m. Saturday, after the government extended voting to accommodate what it called “crowding” at several polling places nationwide. Paper ballots, stuffed into large plastic boxes, were to be counted by hand through the night, and authorities said they expected to have initial results and turnout figures Saturday morning at the earliest.

“My vote will not change anything in this election, the number of people who are voting for Raisi is huge and Hemmati does not have the necessary skills for this,” said Hediyeh, a 25-year-old woman who gave only her first name while hurrying to a taxi in Haft-e Tir Square after avoiding the polls. “I have no candidate here.”

Iranian state television sought to downplay the turnout, pointing to the Gulf Arab sheikhdoms surrounding it ruled by hereditary leaders, and the lower participation in Western democracies. After a day of amplifying officials’ attempts to get out the vote, state TV broadcast scenes of jam-packed voting booths in several provinces overnight, seeking to portray a last-minute rush to the polls.

But since the 1979 revolution overthrew the shah, Iran’s theocracy has cited voter turnout as a sign of its legitimacy, beginning with its first referendum that won 98.2% support that simply asked whether or not people wanted an Islamic Republic.

The disqualifications affected reformists and those backing Rouhani, whose administration both reached the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers and saw it disintegrate three years later with then-President Donald Trump’s unilateral withdrawal of America from the accord.

Voter apathy also has been fed by the devastated state of the economy and subdued campaigning amid months of surging coronavirus cases. Poll workers wore gloves and masks, and some wiped down ballot boxes with disinfectants.

If elected, Raisi would be the first serving Iranian president sanctioned by the U.S. government even before entering office over his involvement in the mass execution of political prisoners in 1988, as well as his time as the head of Iran’s internationally criticized judiciary — one of the world’s top executioners.

It also would put hard-liners firmly in control across the government as negotiations in Vienna continue to try to save a tattered deal meant to limit Iran’s nuclear program at a time when Tehran is enriching uranium at its highest levels ever, though it still remains short of weapons-grade levels. Tensions remain high with both the U.S. and Israel, which is believed to have carried out a series of attacks targeting Iranian nuclear sites as well as assassinating the scientist who created its military atomic program decades earlier.

Whoever wins will likely serve two four-year terms and thus could be at the helm at what could be one of the most crucial moments for the country in decades — the death of the 82-year-old Khamenei. Speculation already has begun that Raisi might be a contender for the position, along with Khamenei’s son, Mojtaba.

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Apathy greets Iran presidential vote dominated by hard-liner

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“My vote will not change anything in this election, the number of people who are voting for Raisi is huge and Hemmati does not have the necessary skills for this,” said Hediyeh, a 25-year-old woman who gave only her first name while hurrying to a taxi in Haft-e Tir Square after avoiding the polls. “I have no candidate here.”

Iranian state television sought to downplay the turnout, pointing to the Gulf Arab sheikhdoms surrounding it ruled by hereditary leaders and the lower participation in Western democracies. But since the 1979 revolution overthrew the shah, Iran’s theocracy has cited voter turnout as a sign of its legitimacy, beginning with its first referendum that won 98.2% support that simply asked whether or not people wanted an Islamic Republic.

The disqualifications affected reformists and those backing Rouhani, whose administration both reached the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers and saw it disintegrate three years later with then-President Donald Trump’s unilateral withdrawal of America from the accord. Former hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, also blocked from running, said on social media he’d boycott the vote.

Voter apathy also has been fed by the devastated state of the economy and subdued campaigning amid months of surging coronavirus cases. Poll workers wore gloves and masks, and some wiped down ballot boxes with disinfectants.

If elected, Raisi would be the first serving Iranian president sanctioned by the U.S. government even before entering office over his involvement in the mass execution of political prisoners in 1988, as well as his time as the head of Iran’s internationally criticized judiciary — one of the world’s top executioners.

It also would put hard-liners firmly in control across the government as negotiations in Vienna continue to try to save a tattered deal meant to limit Iran’s nuclear program at a time when Tehran is enriching uranium at its highest levels ever, though it still remains short of weapons-grade levels. Tensions remain high with both the U.S. and Israel, which is believed to have carried out a series of attacks targeting Iranian nuclear sites as well as assassinating the scientist who created its military atomic program decades earlier.

Whoever wins will likely serve two four-year terms and thus could be at the helm at what could be one of the most crucial moments for the country in decades — the death of the 82-year-old Khamenei. Speculation already has begun that Raisi might be a contender for the position, along with Khamenei’s son, Mojtaba.

Khamenei cast the first vote from Tehran, urging the public to “go ahead, choose and vote.”

Raisi, wearing a black turban that identifies him in Shiite tradition as a direct descendant of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad, voted from a mosque in southern Tehran. The cleric acknowledged in comments afterward that some may be “so upset that they don’t want to vote.”

“I beg everyone, the lovely youths, and all Iranian men and women speaking in any accent or language from any region and with any political views, to go and vote and cast their ballots,” Raisi said.

But few appeared to heed the call. There are more than 59 million eligible voters in Iran, a nation of over 80 million people. However, the state-linked Iranian Student Polling Agency has estimated a turnout will be just 44%, which would be the lowest since the revolution. Officials gave no turnout figures Friday, though results could come Saturday.

Fears about a low turnout have some warning Iran may be turning away from being an Islamic Republic — a government with elected civilian leadership overseen by a supreme leader from its Shiite clergy — to a country more tightly governed by its supreme leader, who already has final say on all matters of state and oversees its defense and atomic program.

“This is not acceptable,” said former President Mohammad Khatami, a reformist who sought to change the theocracy from the inside during eight years in office. “How would this conform to being a republic or Islamic?”

For his part, Khamenei warned of “foreign plots” seeking to depress turnout in a speech Wednesday. A flyer handed out on the streets of Tehran by hard-liners echoed that and bore the image of Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani, who was killed in a U.S. drone strike in 2020. A polling station was set up by Soleimani’s grave on Friday.

Some voters appeared to echo that call.

“We cannot leave our destiny in the hands of foreigners and let them decide for us and create conditions that will be absolutely harmful for us,” said Tehran voter Shahla Pazouki.

Also hurting a moderate like Hemmati is the public anger aimed at Rouhani over the collapse of the deal, despite ongoing talks in Vienna to revive it. Iran’s already-ailing economy has suffered since, with double-digit inflation and mass unemployment.

“It is useless,” said Ali Hosseini, a 36-year-old unemployed resident in southern Tehran, about voting. “Anyone who wins the election after some time says he cannot solve problem of the economy because of intervention by influential people. He then forgets his promises and we poor people again remain disappointed.”

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