The South Carolina Gauntlet

January 12th, 2012

Fresh from his victories in Iowa and New Hampshire, Mitt Romney now heads to South Carolina, which will either have the effect of effectively wrapping up the nomination for him, or presaging a long, drawn out primary process.

South Carolina has a deserved reputation as the most brutal states in the Republican presidential nominating process and could potentially pose serious problems for Mitt Romney. As Steve Kornacki notes:

On paper, the state embodies all of the demographic realities and intraparty dynamics that have made him such a tough sell to the party base. If Romney’s Mormonism really is a deal-breaker with the religious right, we will find out. About 60 percent of the state’s GOP primary universe is composed of evangelical Christians, a group that Romney has struggled with in both of his presidential campaigns. The state is also the unofficial capital of Tea Party Republicanism, with its emphasis on ideological purity and intense suspicion of the party establishment. Romney, with his economically moderate past and reputation as the “next in line” guy, reeks of the type of Republican South Carolina conservatives turned on in 2010. His Yankee roots surely don’t help, either. No wonder Romney won just 15 percent in the state in 2008 — by far his worst showing in any early contest that year.

Still, perhaps more important for the tenor of the campaign in South Carolina is the desperation of his rivals.  Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich know that this could be their last stand, and despite growing unease about their tactics among national Republican politicians, have continued to make Romney’s tenure at Bain Capital a top topic on the campaign trail. Newt is also out with the commercial above (did I mention abortion?) appealing to social conservatives by bringing up Romney’s flip flopping on the Holy Grail of Christian conservative politics, abortion rights.

The latest polls show Mitt Romney leading a fractious GOP field in South Carolina, and if he wins decisively, it will be increasingly difficult for his rivals to continue their campaigns. Gingrich, meanwhile, is hoping he can capitalize on a potential Romney stumble in South Carolina. If Romney loses, it will allow Gingrich to argue that he has a glass jaw and can’t be trusted to take on Obama.

Fasten your seatbelts, folks.

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