Has The 'Magic' Left S.C. Presidential Politics?
State GOP chairman says Palmetto State's "first in the South" primary shouldn't be in jeopardy despite backing the wrong 2012 candidate.
Newt Gingrich appears set to bow out of the race for the Republican nomination for president, and the end of his campaign will also usher in the end of an era in South Carolina politics.
For the last 30 years, the winner of the South Carolina Republican primary has gone on to win the GOP nomination.
The state's predictive powers led Gingrich to rest the hopes of his faltering campaign on the South Carolina contest, projecting a victory in the race if he could reel in the Palmetto State.
Gingrich went on to overwhelm Mitt Romney and the rest of the field in January, only to win only one more primary contest (his native Georgia) amid dozens over the next three months.
Ultimately, it was Rick Santorum's conservative bona fides that served as more of a threat to the establishment-backed Romney.
The state's track record has also led to a powerful marketing presence for the SCGOP within the conservative community.
"In South Carolina, we pick presidents," the party boasted as the primary neared.
No more, say some.
Brent Nelsen, a political science professor at Furman University in Greenville, said the allure of South Carolina, which otherwise only touts a modest delegate count, has suffered from Gingrich's precipitous fall.
"South Carolina picked the horse that finished a very distant third," Nelsen said. "The magic is gone."
While the impressive streak may have come to an end, SCGOP Chairman Chad Connelly said he doesn't think that will translate into the state party losing leverage when it comes to maintaining an early "first in the South" primary.
"We have a 30-year track record that's kind of unparalleled and unique," Connellly said.
"That's something that is hard to do. And really, this was just a very different year."
The South Carolina primary's marketability won't suffer, Connelly predicted.
"We're a small state, so a candidate can come in here and compete and they don't have to be super well-funded. Media markets are small enough that they can come in and compete. That's part of our attractiveness," Connelly said.
Dana Eiser, a former Gingrich staffer in the Lowcountry, chalked up the streak's end to an anomaly.
"There's a first time for everything," Eiser said.
Don't count Robert Oldendick, executive director for the University of South Carolina's Institute for Public Service and Policy Research as one of those who is as dismissive of the effect this year's primary could play on the state's electoral legacy.
"If you say 'going back to 1980' it sounds impressive; but when you realize that this encompasses eight contests it is less impressive - and three of these (1984, 1992 and 2004) involved Republican incumbents in which the primary "challenges" were not that meaningful," Oldendick said. "More important to me is the likelihood that Florida will aggressively challenge for 'first in the South' status. If Romney is the incumbent, this is unlikely to be a major concern in 2016, but if Obama is re-elected this will be a significant issue."