Of all the states holding Republican Primaries next year, you are probably not going to find a closer race than the one in South Carolina. The traditional “first in the South” primary is shaping up to be a narrow – and heated – contest between three of the top four GOP candidates. Unlike some other early states, such as Iowa and New Hampshire, where one candidate has had a substantial lead for months, South Carolina voters have been unable to reach anything close to consensus, and the race only appears to be getting closer.
Although only a mid-sized state (47 delegate votes), South Carolina could prove to be a critical turning point in the 2008 GOP primaries. Of the three candidates generally thought to have the best shot at winning in SC – Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani, and Fred Thompson – all would greatly benefit from a win there. For Mitt Romney, who has suffered from anti-Mormon, anti-northerner feelings, a win in SC would prove his ability to win in Southern states, and, assuming he wins all early states prior to the SC primary (which is an entirely possible, even likely, scenario), could give him the support he needs to win FL and sweep on Super Tuesday. For Rudy Giuliani, a win in this Conservative Evangelical state would greatly minimize the importance of his liberal social views, and, like Romney, prove his ability to win the South. South Carolina is even more important for Fred Thompson, because his campaign is going to live or die based on Southern support. If Thompson can’t win South Carolina, or an earlier state, he is done.
Even before he officially announced his candidacy, Thompson was leading in South Carolina, and by a comfortable margin. Since then, however, he has slipped, and, in the latest poll, he leads by less than 2% over Romney, a good example of the trend which has shown Thompson slipping and Romney gaining ground. The last three polls conducted in South Carolina have shown Thompson losing an average of 4.6%. The latest poll, conducted by ARG, shows Romney ahead with Thompson far behind.
South Carolina alone won’t decide the GOP nomination – in fact, it is likely going to be heavily influenced by earlier primaries in IA, NH, NV, WY, and MI. That said, what happens in South Carolina could make or break more than one GOP candidate.