What will it take to win South Carolina's GOP primary?

The State (Columbia, S.C.)December 21, 2011 

One month from today, South Carolina voters will pick their Republican presidential choice out of a crowded field.

And, if history holds, they will also pick the Republican presidential candidate. Since 1980, the state’s GOP voters have successfully chosen the eventual nominee.

Here are five factors that will determine who wins in the Palmetto State Jan. 21.

Can Gingrich sustain his momentum?

In a high-scoring football game, the team that gets the ball last usually wins. And in this topsy-turvy Republican primary, former Speaker of the U.S. House Newt Gingrich has the ball with time running out.

Gingrich leaped to the top of polls thanks to his solid performance in a series of televised debates, said Adam Waldeck, Gingrich’s S.C. director.

But with just 13 days to the Iowa caucuses, and one month until the S.C. primary, can Gingrich sustain that momentum?

Can Mitt Romney break through?

Since September, Romney has received between 27 and 21 percent of the S.C. vote, according to a majority of polls.

He is not picking up additional S.C. votes.

Romney also has ranked in second place in nearly every poll since the summer, trailing Texas Gov. Rick Perry, then Georgia businessman Herman Cain and now Gingrich.

If he’s going to win South Carolina, he must rise to the top.

The Iowa caucuses on Jan. 3 and the New Hampshire primary on Jan. 10 could help him by knocking some candidates out of the race, say S.C. political scientists. He may also get a bump from Gov. Nikki Haley, who is expected to stump for him.

Who will Tim Scott endorse?

Big endorsements have been thin so far in the Palmetto State.

U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint, the big prize, says he won’t endorse, while U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham has said he “might not” endorse. Haley has been the exception, endorsing Romney.

That leaves U.S. Rep. Tim Scott of Charleston, a media rock star and favorite with GOP voters and Tea Party members alike, as the top endorsement in the state. Why Scott and not any of the other four freshmen congressmen from South Carolina?

Scott’s district includes three of the largest counties in the state that are voter-rich: Horry, Dorchester and Charleston counties.

• Scott, more than any other S.C. congressman, has been involved in the primary process. Candidates have fallen over each other to attend Scott’s First in the South Presidential Town Hall meetings, during which Scott leads a question and answer session in front of a packed house and TV cameras.

A Scott endorsement for Romney, coupled with Haley’s support, could be what Romney needs to finally push to the front here, say S.C. political scientists.

Scott said Tuesday he is deciding now who to endorse and will announce as soon as he can schedule a final town hall meeting featuring Texas Rep. Ron Paul. All the other major GOP candidates have appeared at previous town hall meetings.

Will South Carolina break the tie again?

South Carolina’s strength in the presidential primary process has always come from its place on the calendar.

S.C.Republicans vote early, but not too early. That means one candidate wins Iowa, another candidate else wins New Hampshire — and South Carolina breaks the tie.

It happened in the state’s first primary in 1980, when South Carolina picked Ronald Reagan over George H.W. Bush, and again in 2008 when voters picked John McCain over Mike Huckabee.

Today, Paul is leading in Iowa. Romney is leading, as he has throughout the election cycle, in New Hampshire.

All signs point to another S.C. showdown.

Will the Tea Party be a factor?

The South Carolina Tea Party first flexed its muscle in the 2010 governor’s race, plucking Nikki Haley from a relatively-obscure State House seat and into the Governor’s Mansion.

But since then, the Tea Party has fractured. Every candidate can claim some segment of Tea Party support, a signal that their power has waned in the Palmetto State.

To read more, visit www.thestate.com.

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