All six active candidates have obtained tickets to South Carolina, some first-class and some wangled with the political equivalent of frequent-flier miles. Rick Perry flew into New Hampshire for the two 10-hours-apart debates at which he pitched his appeal to South Carolinians and then flew right back south.
Santorum got his ticket from his tied-for-first finish in Iowa, and Gingrich, suspiciously specific about the contents of his supposedly independent super-PAC's 27-minute anti-Romney film, is headed down there, as well.
Huntsman, though far behind Romney in New Hampshire, did well enough to get the chance to make his case to South Carolinians. And Ron Paul, who finished second, was going to keep on keeping on no matter how he did.
South Carolina Republicans have a tradition of backing winners, going back to Strom Thurmond's backing of Richard Nixon over Ronald Reagan at the 1968 national convention. In 1988, Thurmond protege Lee Atwater engineered South Carolina's early primary, just before Southern Super Tuesday, to help his candidate, George H.W. Bush.
Ever since, South Carolina, a state that voted from 88 percent to 99 percent Democratic in Franklin Roosevelt's days, has clinched the Republican nomination, and not for the candidates deemed most conservative: Bush in 1988 and 1992, Bob Dole in 1996, George W. Bush in 2000 and John McCain in 2008.
No nonincumbent Republican presidential candidate has won both the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary before. Romney has, though with an asterisk in Iowa, and his flight path to the nomination seems clear.
But he's going to have competition, which is good for him and for the Republican Party, and victory is not assured. He still has to earn it.
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