South Carolina politician James Petigru observed about my native state, “South Carolina is too small for a republic and too large for an insane asylum.” With all the news that has broken within the 48 hours before the Palmetto GOP primary, many South Carolina voters are probably feeling that the latter half of that statement is coming true.
In just under twelve hours, Newt Gingrich experienced the turbulence of a South Carolina primary: a huge boost to solidify conservative voters (who want ABM—Anybody But Mitt) with Rick Perry’s dropout and endorsement, then his second wife’s bombshell leveling potentially damaging allegations against him. And so we were all waiting to see when it would come up in the CNN Charleston debate. And we didn’t have to wait long or be disappointed.
Newt’s first five minutes of the CNN Charleston debate will dominate the sound bites for the next 24 hours, effectively dispelling whatever damage leading into Saturday’s vote. Beginning primary week with a strong performance at the Fox Debate in Myrtle Beach and capping off the week with a scene-stealing opening at the CNN Debate, Newt has a potential solid ride into Saturday’s vote.
For Mitt Romney, CNN’s debate revealed that he knew it was now a truly competitive race. Many believed that having a strong show in Iowa (now coming in second) and a good win in New Hampshire, Romney’s coronation would be confirmed in South Carolina. But with Newt’s performances, Romney is finding out it’s a “not so fast” race
Rick Santorum benefited from being in the “final four” at the CNN debate, and was able to go head-to-head with both frontrunners Romney and Gingrich. Whether he can build on a “first-place in Iowa but two weeks later” will affect how close Romney and Gingrich are to each other. It also appears that Santorum hasn’t been able to “close the deal” with potential voters: Public Policy Polling released “day 2” of their SC poll immediately after the CNN debate, and showed that Santorum’s voters were most likely to abandon him for someone else in the final hours, with Newt benefitting the most.
After his worst performance in these 18+ debates so far, Ron Paul made a considerable comeback at the CNN debate, joining in on the attacks on all the candidates, especially Gingrich and Santorum. And like in Iowa and New Hampshire, Paul supporters are among the most fervent of supporters.
But South Carolina voters have their history to consider in deciding Saturday’s winner, and this year seems to be the most complicated primary they have faced in a long time. Do they stay with their historical legacy of voting for the eventual nominee, and if so, is it Newt or Mitt?
It’s up to Palmetto voters now—and the likelihood is that it’s anyone’s guess what happens on Saturday. A safe prediction though: come Sunday morning, many of those SC Republican voters will be in the pews and there will be a lot of prayers starting with “Thank God that’s over.”