In the first two Republican presidential votes, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, and Rick Perry divided the conservatives, paving the way for front-runner Mitt Romney's victories.
Romney’s hoping that dynamic remains in place for the Jan. 21 South Carolina primary, Politico
reports. So far it’s looking good for the former Massachusetts governor. All three polls taken in the state this year show Romney in the lead, with a margin ranging from 3 percentage points to 18 points.
Two of the polls have former Pennsylvania Sen. Santorum in second place, with former House Speaker Gingrich in third, while the other poll has that order reversed. Texas Rep. Ron Paul placed fourth, with Texas Gov. Perry in fifth.
Romney also has enough campaign cash to generate any mail, telephone and television ad efforts that he wants. As long as social conservatives don’t unite behind any of his rivals — and so far they’ve shown no sign of doing so — Romney should be sitting pretty come Jan. 21.
“Romney comes in here 2-0 and at least at this point, I don’t see an indication that the anti-Romney factions are going to be able to come together enough,” Chip Felkel, a South Carolina Republican consultant who isn’t working for any candidate, told Politico. “This is a game of perception and momentum, and he’ll have both.”
In addition to social conservatives, Romney’s three conservative opponents will seek support from the many blue-collar workers in South Carolina who have lost their jobs or their job security. Gingrich and Perry are tearing into Romney for his tenure at Bain Capital, the private equity firm he co-founded. They say Bain was responsible for sacking workers in the Palmetto State.
Meanwhile, Romney continues to deploy his two-pronged approach. He emphasizes that he’s the candidate most qualified to fix the economy and the candidate with the best chance to beat President Barack Obama in November.
While social issues loom large in South Carolina, don’t underestimate the importance of economic concerns, says Luke Byars, a veteran South Carolina political operative who is an unpaid adviser to the Romney campaign.
“Whether you’re an evangelical, a born-again Christian or someone who just cares about social issues more than anything else, what I’ve found in South Carolina over the course of the last few years is the economy has been so bad that you’re voting with your pocketbook first. You’re voting with your wallet,” he told Politico.
Republican insiders in the state tell Politico that Santorum is the candidate with the best chance to unite conservative voters behind his effort to upend Romney.
“The timing of Santorum’s rise makes him the one. If you’re going to have an alternative to Romney, he’s the one,” state Sen. Chip Campsen, a Charleston Republican who hasn’t endorsed a candidate, told Politico. “The real question is will the folks who are not enamored with Romney consolidate their vote enough behind Santorum to win a plurality.”
Many experts expect the results to resemble the 2008 race, where the establishment-backed John McCain vanquished a group of conservative challengers led by Mike Huckabee. This time, of course, Romney is the establishment-backed candidate.
One factor that could help Romney is the pride South Carolina Republicans take in their record of having voted for the winner of the GOP nomination in the last eight elections, political operatives in the state told Politico. That could lead voters to back Romney after his victories in Iowa and New Hampshire.
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