I’m sure that everybody has heard at least 1000 times by now that South Carolina has chosen the Republican nominee every single time dating back to 1980. I haven’t checked the stats, but that’s what the smart people have told us. I don’t know, South Carolina may be the bellwether of the Republican Party again this year. Personally, I think it’s too early to tell. As I mentioned after the Iowa caucuses, this is one mixed-up field. I don’t think we know much more now than we knew after Iowa.
After Iowa we knew that Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum were still in the fray. Some pundits continue to believe that Ron Paul can seriously attract Republican voters, though I’ve never thought that Ron Paul could get over 15% of the GOP vote. He is not a true conservative. He is a Libertarian, an outsider. After Iowa, Herman Cain, Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann were really no longer viable candidates. (Jon Huntsman never caught fire. He could possibly be labeled a moderate Republican, of the variety which has been rejected by the mainstream GOP for the last 20 years. Currently, the moderate Republican is a rare species which should be viewed in the zoo.)
Let’s start with Rick Santorum. From a political standpoint, Rick Santorum simply fumbled the ball. He had momentum out of New Hampshire and simply did nothing with it. It was an epic failure. It is in South Carolina that he should’ve hammered home his religious conservative credentials, but he didn’t seem to do that. South Carolina believes in limiting abortions, states’ rights, not limiting gunowners’ rights, etc. South Carolina is the poster child for these conservative social issues. Rick Santorum should’ve hammered home on these issues. Instead, he tried to appeal to South Carolina voters by hammering Obama on the economy. It’s really hard for Rick Santorum to sell himself as more qualified, on the economy, than Newt Gingrich or Mitt Romney. Looking at exit polls, there seems to be no conservative demographic that Rick Santorum appealed to more than any other candidate. He was a total washout.
Mitt Romney. The problem with Mitt Romney is that he is milquetoast. He has the voter appeal of John Kerry or possibly Al Gore (he isn’t liberal, but voters are have the same reaction – they yawn). He is completely uncomfortable in front of crowds. He doesn’t seem to be all that comfortable in front of a microphone. Therefore, if you’re going to vote for Mitt Romney, you’re voting for him because you believe that he understands how to fix the economy. Unfortunately for Romney, he simply is not exciting and South Carolina voters wanted somebody who’s going to get them excited. His advisers should have told him to begin to hammer away at Newt Gingrich. Instead, he ignored Newt Gingrich and began to hammer away at Obama. The strategy didn’t work. (BTW, where was all of the support that Nikki Haley was throwing Mitt’s way? She campaigned hard for him and it didn’t seem to help at all.)
Newt Gingrich. In spite of all the baggage that comes with Newt Gingrich, South Carolina loved him. When you look at exit polls, Newt Gingrich won both males and females. He won with voters who are 30 and older. (Ron Paul won the younger voters 18- 24, but Newt Gingrich was second in that category.) Newt Gingrich won those who are college-educated and also won those with no college degree. He appealed to single conservatives those who are married (I found this interesting). The only category in which he lost significantly were those South Carolinians who made more than $200,000 or more (approximate 5% of the electorate). This is the Romney class.
For Mitt Romney, South Carolina was a complete and total failure. He placed a lot of resources and money into South Carolina and he came up second. He came up a distant second. His current strategy is failing miserably. He needs to come up with something else or the Republican nomination will slip through his fingers. I smell panic from the Romney camp.
I believe that this nomination process is far from over. I think for the first time in my adult life, the Republicans are going to have a knock-down, drag-out fight over several months. This is going to be fun.