S.C. politicians say it's too early to see a difference in the race sans Perry

The StateJanuary 19, 2012 

S.C. politicos say it’s too early to say whether Texas Gov. Rick Perry dropping out the race will give Newt Gingrich a boost in the final days leading up to the S.C. primary.

Gingrich, the former Speaker of the U.S. House, would seem positioned today to turn the state’s primary into a two-man race between he and longtime frontrunner Mitt Romney.

Consider:

• The state’s Tea Party movement is increasingly backing Gingrich. Additional Tea Party endorsements are expected late today.

• Gingrich’s solid performance in a Monday debate in Myrtle Beach and another debate planned for tonight in Charleston where he is anticipated to again perform well.

• Texas Gov. Rick Perry dropping out of the race Thursday and throwing his support behind Gingrich.

• A rough few days for Romney where he said he will not release his tax records until April and an out-of-context quote where Romney said he “likes to fire people.”

But S.C. political observers say it’s still too soon to say who best benefits from the multiple factors.

An ABC News interview with Gingrich’s ex wife, scheduled to air tonight, could have an impact, according to Scott Huffmon, Winthrop University political scientist. And it remains to be seen if Gingrich performs well in tonight’s debate. Romney, also a polished debater, could shine too.

Also, history shows that a candidate dropping out rarely benefits only one other candidate.

“History tells us that when someone drops out of the race, their supporters don't go to one place. They split up,” said Shell Suber, a S.C. political consultant. “Chances are half the Perry supporters go to the frontrunner (Romney) and the rest go elsewhere, splitting between Gingrich and (Rick) Santorum.”

Suber also points out that Perry does not have many supporters.

“You're only talking about 5 to 7 percent support to begin with,” Suber said. Tucker Eskew, a Republican strategist who helped direct the 2000 S.C. primary campaign for George W. Bush, predicts Gingrich will get a bounce from Perry’s exit.

“Any consolidationg on Romney’s right flank favors Gingrich at this point,” Eskew said.

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