Now that the smoke has cleared in Iowa and New Hampshire, the nation’s eyes are turning just south of me to The Palmetto State. (We, in North Carolina, will get our share of the national spotlight this summer when BarryO and his traveling circus roll into Charlotte.)
The national media makes it seem like ALL you have to do to win South Carolina is thump a few Bibles and attend a few church services. (I am not saying THAT won’t help.) But you need to understand that South Carolina voters have a lot of love for candidates who stand up to the establishment, march to the beat of their own drums, and are pretty good at the good-ol’-boy backslapping and shooting-of-the-bull. That mindset allowed for Strom Thurmond and Fritz Hollings — two polar ideological opposites — to serve the state so long in Columbia and Washington. Senator Jim DeMint is following in the tradition of those two, with his sometimes very lonely fight for common sense conservatism in the U.S. Senate. Former congressman and governor Mark Sanford — pre-affair — won the hearts of voters by challenging his own party on pork barrel spending. As governor, Sanford even brought two live pigs to the legislature to hammer home his point.
South Carolina still has a vibrant Tea Party. Nikki Haley rode the 2009 wave of anti-establishment anger fueled by The Tea Party all the way to the governor’s mansion in Columbia. Her strong endorsement of Mitt Romney has angered Tea Party leaders and caused her poll numbers to plummet. South Carolina voters are not shy about tossing out politicians who get too cozy with the establishment and seemingly forget who brought them to the dance. (See Inglis, Bob.)
South Carolina ought to be tailor-made for Rick Perry. But his long-running feud with the Bush family (who primaried him in his last gubernatorial run and are backing Romney) will likely cost him here. Congressman Ron Paul’s passionate limited government stances — and his outsider status in DC — ought to serve him well here.
Newt Gingrich’s pre-1994 hell-raising in DC ought to be a plus for him. But when voters are reminded about his ads with Nancy Pelosi, his vocal support for RomneyCare, HillaryCare, and ObamaCare, and his appearance at a rally in Columbia today with Jim Clyburn, his goose will be cooked.
Huntsman has nabbed some key supporters among the party establishment in the Columbia area and upstate. Look for him to pull off a Better-than-expected finish and steal some votes that would otherwise go to Romney.
Former Senator Rick Santorum’s easygoing style and passionate conservative rhetoric helped him get within a whisker of Romney in Iowa. If he plays his cards right, Santorum can pull off a similar — or better — finish.
New Hampshire was an aberration. It is loaded with refugees who fled the Massachusetts tax and spending mess and who remember Governor Romney fondly. The Romneys also maintain a residence in the small, close-knit state.
South Carolina is a totally different animal. Palmetto State Republicans have picked the eventual nominee correctly since 1980. The South Carolina vote will speak VOLUMES about what the road to November will look like.