The South Carolina Primary may decide the Republican nomination for the 2012 presidential race. The Republican Party may unite behind Mitt Romney, or it may implode under the weight of conservative division and infighting, rendering its candidate impotent against the waiting Obama juggernaut.
Image by George Cassutto
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The Iowa Caucuses and the New Hampshire primary are in the bag for former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney. His pursuit of the Republican nomination for president is gaining the necessary momentum it will need to convince reluctant conservatives to get behind Romney and choose him as their candidate to go up against President Obama in the fall of 2012. Nevertheless, as the South Carolina primary comes up on the calendar less than one week from now, it isn’t clear whether Romney will emerge as the Republican Party’s standard bearer, or if any one of his Republican rivals will be able to challenge and weaken his candidacy.
Romney’s victory in Iowa can be seen as a hollow one since he and former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum came out in a virtual tie, separated by eight votes. Santorum has emerged as the darling of social conservatives within the Republican Party due to his militant stance against abortion, gay-rights, and even previously accepted social norms such as contraception. Romney is being accused by his other rival, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, as being a “Massachusetts moderate,” someone who does not have the conservative credentials to return America to the core values of limited government and Christian morality as embodied in the Constitution. Romney did well in New Hampshire, a neighboring state with a more liberal Republican electorate in an open primary (where voters of any party can participate). Democrats and Independents had some influence over the final results of the first-in-the-nation primary. The real test of whether or not Republicans actually support their apparent front-runner will come in South Carolina.
South Carolinians have a good record for choosing the Republican nominee. In nine out the last ten elections, South Carolina’s choice in the Republican Primary has gone on to become the party’s nominee. In 2012, the evangelical Christian wing of the Republican Party will have considerable sway in determining who their man will be. They are not happy with Mitt Romney, who has taken liberal positions on key issues such as abortion and gay rights when he was governor of a liberal, northeastern state. Evangelicals prefer Santorum, but his poll numbers are weak in South Carolina as the primary date approaches. In fact, one week out, Romney seems to have a lead from 7 points to 23 points over his closest rival, Newt Gingrich. Gingrich sees South Carolina as a critical event for his campaign since he is in his own neighborhood, one state away from his native Georgia. Gingrich was leading Romney in the polls in South Carolina until Gingrich was weakened by a barrage of SuperPac ads in Iowa that strongly criticized his conservative credentials and ethics record while he was Speaker of the House in the 1990s.