Donald Trump wins South Carolina

New York: Republican front-runner Donald Trump late on Saturday won the South Carolina Republican primary.

The victory is seen as a tremendous show of strength in the heart of the Deep South that validates his status as the GOP's national front-runner, CNN reported.

Trump's win, following his victory in New Hampshire earlier this month and a second-place finish in the Iowa caucuses, gives the former reality television star a critical burst of momentum heading into Nevada's Republican caucuses on Tuesday and the slate of 13 states voting on Super Tuesday on March 1.

His performance could unnerve the Republican establishment, since South Carolina has sided with the eventual nominee in every GOP presidential race since 1980, apart from 2012. And, following his risky attack on George W. Bush's handling of terrorism and the Iraq War, Trump's win provides more evidence that he can take positions that would undermine virtually any other politician.

"I want to begin by thanking the people of South Carolina," Trump said in a victory speech. "This is a special night."

His wife, Melania, made rare public remarks.

"I want to say congratulations to my husband," she said, noting that he's "been working very hard."

"We love you and we are going ahead to Nevada," she added.

Jeb Bush, meanwhile, said he is suspending his campaign for the Republican nomination. He struggled for months to make inroads against Trump, who constantly mocked the former Florida governor's "low energy" and for spending tens of millions of dollars on his campaign.

But it was Bush's disappointing finish in South Carolina, where his brother and mother, former first lady Barbara Bush, campaigned for him, that was the final straw.

"The people of Iowa and New Hampshire and South Carolina have spoken and I really respect their decision, so tonight I am suspending my campaign," Bush said, before being overtaken by emotion.

A battle for second place is unfolding between Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who dueled over evangelical voters and exchanged bitter taunts in a feverish final week of campaigning.