Since the advent of the contemporary presidential primary system in the 1970s, no Republican has gone on to win his party’s presidential nomination without winning the crucial South Carolina primary.
Given the differences in how delegates are being proportioned compared to past years, and the longer primary calendar, that trend may or may not continue in 2012. However, there is no doubt that from a momentum standpoint the perception of the candidates coming out of South Carolina could very well determine the trajectory of the race the rest of the way.
Here’s how I project the final results:
1. Newt Gingrich (37%)....All signs point to the former Speaker's momentum continuing to trend upward in a state he desperately needs. I suspect you will also see undecided voters continuing to break late towards Gingrich sensing that's the direction the momentum is headed, because everybody loves a winner. You know you've had a good week when an ex-wife attempts to drop a bombshell interview on you at the last minute, and you still gain ground. If Newt pulls out the win a secondary winner will be Rick Perry, who will be able to say after his endorsement of Gingrich that his candidacy still helped accomplish what it was originally devised to do—stop Mitt Romney’s coronation.
2. Mitt Romney (31%)...Between the certified vote in the Iowa Caucuses stripping him of his victory there, and Gingrich's surge in South Carolina, this could end up being the week Romney lost the Republican nomination. At the very least this would be the week his inevitability factor evaporated. If Gingrich were to win South Carolina, the odds would really be against Romney obtaining the necessary 1,144 delegates required to win the nomination, because the rest of the South (except for Virginia where Newt isn’t on the ballot), would likely go to Gingrich.
3. Ron Paul (20%)...He has some key endorsements in the Palmetto State that have flown under the radar, and his philosophy of governance will have an audience in a part of the country where states rights has been a battle cry for centuries. If Paul were to earn top three finishes in the Midwest (Iowa), the Northeast (New Hampshire), and now the South, he and his campaign could certainly make the case Paul is no longer a fringe candidate but a trailblazer of a movement that is gaining steam within the GOP. He would also become a major player at a brokered convention if no gets the delegates necessary to clinch the nomination beforehand.
4. Rick Santorum (12%)...It's been a bad week for the Santorum campaign. It's obvious the bungled Iowa Caucuses that should've vaulted him into major contention instead really did a number on him, and this alleged show of support from all these pro-family/pro-life leaders he was supposed to get after this meeting in Texas never materialized. Sadly, I’m not that surprised, because the same thing that has happened to Santorum also happened to Mike Huckabee four years ago, which is what my book We Won’t Get Fooled Again: Where the Christian Right Went Wrong and How to Make America Right Again is all about. Santorum benefited in Iowa from Michele Bachmann supporters breaking for him late once they saw he had the momentum, a dynamic that will likely work against Santorum in South Carolina. There he will lose support to Gingrich from those who sense that's where the momentum is and want to stop Romney’s coronation.