The Republican presidential primary has gone through a bit of an existential crisis over the past few weeks – Does Iowa really matter? Does New Hampshire? Does South Carolina? Does anything really matter?
But with Rick Santorum’s near-victory in Iowa tripping up what the Romney campaign had hoped would be an easy march to victory, it’s now clear that any road to the Republican nomination must once again run through the Palmetto State. Mitt Romney is widely believed to have New Hampshire wrapped up, making South Carolina the next true testing ground for the Presidential wannabes.
“I think we’ve got a race here in South Carolina where we didn’t have one a while ago,” Clemson University political science professor Dave Woodard told the Charleston Post & Courier.
Rick Perry bet his campaign on the Palmetto State weeks ago, as did Michele Bachmann before dropping out on Wednesday. Meanwhile, Rick Santorum will be trying to prove his strong showing in Iowa isn’t simply a repeat of Mike Huckabee four years ago.
A Suffolk University poll shows Santorum in fifth place in New Hampshire, according to Politico’s James Hohmann, echoing Huckabee’s 2008 win in Iowa and subsequent flop in the Granite State. Santorum will have an easier time showing South Carolina evangelicals he is the anti-Romney, but a Santorum loss in the Palmetto State will likely seal his electoral fate — just as it did for Huckabee.
It’s clear the Romney campaign believes it is pulling out all the stops in the South Carolina, bringing in 2008 GOP nominee John McCain for two rallies in the Lowcountry. As Twitter user @dewcooper put it, “the guy who couldn’t beat Obama teamed with the guy who couldn’t beat McCain.” Gov. Nikki Haley is expected to join Romney and McCain, though recent polling suggests South Carolina Republicans are even less fond of Haley than they once were of McCain.
It goes without saying that a lot can happen in the next two weeks, especially since there hasn’t been any substantial polling in South Carolina since before Newt Gingrich began his implosion. Santorum will be fighting hard to prove he can beat Romney, and Perry and Gingrich will be fighting to maintain their relevance. With Gingrich abandoning his pledge to stay positive, conditions could be right for one of the dirtiest primary seasons the state has seen in years.