South Carolina: In 1988, 1992, 1996 and 2000, it was the state that, with its early primary, determined the winner of the Republican nomination for president. It gave George H.W. Bush the nomination over Bob Dole, determined that he would not be upset by Pat Buchanan, delivered for Dole over Buchanan and gave George W. Bush a decisive victory over John McCain.
This year, South Carolina was not decisive in the same way. Its Republicans gave John McCain a 33 percent to 30 percent victory over Mike Huckabee last Saturday, and, as this is written, Barack Obama is poised to beat Hillary Clinton by a decisive margin on Saturday, Jan. 26.
Neither result, at least at this time, seems likely to determine the nomination. Mitt Romney and, depending on his showing in Florida on Jan. 29, Rudy Giuliani appear capable of beating McCain. Clinton's numbers in Florida and the Feb. 5 primary states look much stronger than her numbers in South Carolina. And, just to take no chances, she seems poised to defy the Democratic Party's ban on campaigning in Florida (because it scheduled its primary earlier than allowed under party rules).
But both South Carolina results, the one already registered and the one that seems as reasonably sure as anything in this wild and woolly primary season, seem likely to reshape the two parties' contests -- and perhaps to change the balance of strength between the two parties and reduce what has been a major advantage for the Democrats.
For the Republicans, Huckabee's defeat in South Carolina seems to remove him as a major contender. He has won many votes from evangelical and born-again Christians, but except in the Iowa caucuses he has not won big majorities in the group and has won only about 10 percent of the votes of other Republicans.
He doesn't have the money to run much in the way of ads in Florida. This means that we're unlikely to see a confrontation between Huckabee and one other candidate, between someone closely identified with evangelicals and one who is not. The result: The winner of the primary will not be seen as having disrespected a core constituency of the party.
Democrats face a dissimilar prospect. John Edwards, who won 4 percent of the delegate vote in Nevada, is effectively out of the race, whether he keeps delivering his "two Americas" speech or not. That pits Hillary Clinton against an African-American candidate, and her surrogates -- Black Entertainment Television head Bob Johnson, New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, former President Bill Clinton -- have been delivering harsh attacks on Obama with racially loaded language.
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