What Is Shaping the South Carolina Republican Presidential Primary?

Bookmark and Share   One of the most unique things about South Carolina in regards to the early presidential nomination contests is the state’s substantial military demographic. It accounts for nearly 400,000 military veterans or 12 percent of the state’s voting age population.  Then there are about another additional 34,000 active duty service members who are stationed on military bases in South Carolina.

With such a large percentage of military voters, you would expect that based upon the claims that Ron Paul has more support from the military than any other candidate, Ron Paul is a shoo-in to win the South Carolina primary.  However, Dr. Paul is currently in fourth place, far behind Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Santorum, respectively.

So who does have a leg up on these military voters?

In 2008, John McCain,  a bona fide war hero and second time candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, essentially began to lock up the nomination with a big win in South Carolina.  He was closely followed though by Mike Huckabee.  Mitt Romney came in a distant fourth behind Fred Thompson, and the candidate supposedly beloved by the military, Ron Paul came in fifth place by failing to even get 4% of the vote.

2008 South Carolina Republican Presidential Primary Results

John McCain 147,733 33.15% 18
Mike Huckabee 132,990 29.84% 6
Fred Thompson 69,681 15.63% 0
Mitt Romney 68,177 15.3% 0
Ron Paul 16,155 3.62% 0

This timed around, while it is hard to say who will come in second to Mitt Romney, but there is no denying that Romney will take first place honors.

In addition to a good organization and a well financed campaign, he has an advantage over other candidates within the South Carolina Party apparatus which Romney unofficially gained access to when he got the official endorsement of the state’s Governor, Nikki Haley.

But the race for second place will be exciting.

That contest should come down to Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich.

And while that decision will be significantly influenced by South Carolina’s large military vote, even that voting bloc finds their top priority to be jobs, not national security.  With a 10% unemployment rate, even the military is beginning to fear the prospect of benefit cuts and the effects of President Obama’s call to downsize the armed forces.  It is this mix of military related economics which happens to be giving Mitt Romney an edge in the Palmetto State.

While he receives high marks from these military voters on economic matters, they also understand that Romney is strong on defense and his well designed national security agenda receives great approval from this voting bloc, much more so than even Ron Paul who many of these voters feel would weaken our defenses and directly hit them in their pockets at the same time.  All of this bodes well for Romney help works to his advantage as the significant socially conservative voting bloc in South Carolina end up splitting their vote between Santorum, Gingrich, and Texas Governor Rick Perry.

Meanwhile, Rick Perry has launched his own ad aimed at coalescing the military vote behind him.

His hope is that between them and a portion of social conservatives, he might be able to hammer together a small coalition that is big enough to provide him with a surprise showing.  But the prospects for that happening are getting dimmer by the day.

Last week, an American Research Group poll noted that between the month’s of December and January, Romney had gained as many as 9 percentage points, while Newt Gingrich lost 9 percentage points and Rick Santorum gained 23 percentage points.  That trend would indicate that Santorum had what George H.W. Bush called the “big mo”.  But more recent polls have shown that Santorum’s surge has leveled off and the Mitt Romney continues to pick up some steam.  Newt had stopped hemorrhaging support in South Carolina but his new negative ant-capitalist strategy may not provide him with the boost he needs to overcome Romney.  He may now not even be able to surpass Santorum, who Gingrich narrowly defeated in New Hampshire.  As for Rick Perry, his movement in any direction has been minimal.

While no one can guarantee that Mitt Romney will in South Carolina, right now he must be the odds on favorite and as for the rest of the field, well it’s hard to say with certainty that Gingrich is out and that Santorum will pull of a second place finish, but that is likely and also likely is a a Ron Paul fourth place finish, followed by Rick Perry and rounding off the back of the pack, former Utah Governor and Ambassador to China, Jon Huntsman.

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