Yes, Mitt Romney has a huge advantage in the race for the Republican nomination for president. Yes, Newt Gingrich and perhaps Rick Santorum made bad decisions by participating in the New Hampshire primary, given that Romney could outspend them in a state where most participants are hardly "conservative Republicans." But now every candidate must compete in a real, live "red" state, where cities have real, live populations, and the cities and counties are more reflective of the other more mainstream Republican states that will come after it.
Welcome to South Carolina, a state made up of three nations. To disabuse many pundits, South Carolina is not a purely "evangelical" state. In reality, Christian fundamentalists are most heavily populated in the northwestern segment of the state. They voted heavily for their candidate, Mike Huckabee, in 2008, yet Huckabee lost to the more socially moderate John McCain that year. Yes, "evangelicals" matter -- but they do not dominate South Carolina, as some pundits might think.
The real decision-makers live close to that beautiful and regal city, Charleston. The counties that surround the area make up a combination of retirees from the Midwest and retired military. They were responsible for McCain's victory in the 2008 GOP presidential primary. Additionally, current military families live south of Columbia, the capital city of the state.
The middle of the state, which is centered on Columbia, is also very business-oriented. It usually splits between the more "establishment" Republican candidates. That means that a battle for those near Charleston and those in the upper-western part of the state really decides a GOP presidential primary battle.
So who can we immediately discount? Jon Huntsman? To use South Carolina language, "That bird won't hunt." He's too moderate-to-liberal for South Carolina voters ... and they are very sharp voters. As to Rick Perry, I have come to really like the guy. He seems more human than most of his competitors. But this will likely be his last stand, with money running low and no natural base in South Carolina.
Ron Paul, who in terms of political doctrine is the hero to many, will not survive the more sober and realistic South Carolina electorate. He will drop, and that will leave a solid yet undetermined percent of South Carolina Republican voters who will be ready to vote for someone who is not the "establishment candidate."
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