- Associated Press - Saturday, May 7, 2016

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - After a bruising primary process, South Carolina Republicans - with one very notable exception - are preaching a message of unity as they rally behind Donald Trump.

The state’s party faithful gathered Saturday at their annual convention to select the rest of the state’s delegation to the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in July. But the state’s top Republican, Gov. Nikki Haley, didn’t even mention Trump’s name during her address to convention attendees, opting instead to go after the Republican-dominated Legislature for spending time and money on projects that benefit themselves and their home districts.

Haley - who initially backed Marco Rubio before reluctantly saying she’d support Ted Cruz over Trump - urged what she called the state’s true Republicans to remain united in their pursuit of conservative ideals. Haley also pledged to veto next week a bill overwhelmingly approved that she says gives an unfair bailout to the state’s farmers in the wake of last fall’s historic flooding.

“I will not support any bailout of any industry over any other industry that suffered in this 1,000-year flood,” Haley told about 500 people gathered at the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center. “We do not do bailouts in the state of South Carolina.”

Haley’s state-focused message was the outlier at a politically homogeneous and otherwise sedate convention that, until Cruz’s departure from the race, had been anticipated as potentially contentious. But the convention hall was more than half empty, with only about 500 of the nearly 900 seats set aside for delegates occupied. Some counties sent no delegates at all.

At a self-proclaimed “unity breakfast” hosted before the convention, Lt. Gov. Henry McMaster told more than a hundred attendees that the country has an opportunity to make sure Republicans unify behind Donald Trump as their presumptive nominee.

“The man is speaking to the heart of the American people,” said McMaster, who was South Carolina’s highest-ranking elected official to back Trump, told the group, standing in front of a banner reading, “Defeat Hillary! Vote Trump.” ”We’re doing the right things in South Carolina, and we can be a model for the country.”

Senior Trump adviser Ed Brookover said the campaign appreciated the support from South Carolina and was focused toward the general election.

With regard to Haley’s lack of mention of the candidate, Brookover said Trump would “continue to earn the support of the American people” and acknowledged voters who didn’t initially support Trump go through their own “process.”

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Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP . Read more of her work at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/meg-kinnard/

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