Would SC Voters Like a Do-Over?
Probably not, even though the streak of picking presidents is likely over.
In January, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich was a double-digit winner in the South Carolina primary over frontrunner Mitt Romney, with Rick Santorum coming in a distant third.
At the time, it was thought that the win might be precisely the shot in the arm the struggling Gingrich campaign needed.
Instead, Gingrich has floundered, having won only his home state of Georgia in the 32 primaries and caucuses since.
His inability to capitalize on the momentum means that the South Carolina GOP’s streak of correctly picking the eventual nominee since 1980 will come to an end.
To some, the streak was evidence of the Palmetto State’s importance in the primary schedule. While others, who did not necessarily diminish the importance of the streak, continue to believe that South Carolina’s being “First in the South” is what really matters.
Regardless, the key to Gingrich’s victory here was his ability to attract the most-conservative voters in the party. Considering how Santorum subsequently lured away those voters, it would seem logical that the state’s voters might have a tinge of regret.
But for the most part, according to Gingrich supporters who talked to Patch in the past week, they don’t.
Karen Martin, who heads the Spartanburg County Tea Party, was undecided for much of the primary season, but eventually came around to Gingrich. She has always viewed Santorum as toxic because of how he is portrayed by the mainstream media.
“It has nothing to do with how qualified Santorum actually is as a candidate,” Martin said.
Martin not only does not regret her vote, she thinks Gingrich should reject calls to withdraw from the race.
“I want Newt to stay in as long as possible,” she said. “He’s keeping Romney accountable.”
Martin also wants Gingrich to stay in because he increases the likelihood of a brokered convention. “I’m still holding out hope for that," Martin said.
Lowcountry 9-12 member Dana Eiser shares Martin’s views, particularly about the possibility of a brokered convention.
"I'm still a gung-ho Newt supporter," Eiser said. "I think he's the only man for the job, he's the only one who understands how Washington works. Although he is a Washington insider, I think that's what we need to change Washington."
Romney may make it to the convention with the most delegates, but it looks more and more likely he won't have enough of them to clinch the nomination outright, and that could pave the way for what Eiser said would be a dream ticket — Santorum/Gingrich 2012.
Charleston City Councilman Aubrey Alexander, who supported Gingrich after his preferred candidate (Rick Perry) dropped out, doesn't regret his vote either.
Alexander said Gingrich continues to give voice to important issues in the campaign.
"I think the Speaker would be a formidable foe for Obama," Alexander said. "He is extremely informed and able to debate the conservative position with the President, but he doesn't seem to be able to get the support nationally."
One Santorum supporter, Jane Kizer, thinks Gingrich’s debating skills are impressive, but probably would not have made much of a difference in a race against Obama.
“Obama is not going to debate the technical issues like Gingrich wants to,” Kizer said. “He’s going to give speeches that appeal to people’s emotion and that’s what appeals to the average voter.”
Political consultant Patrick Arnold said he doesn't really hear anyone still talking about Newt Gingrich or the South Carolina primary results any more.
"It seems like for all the people in South Carolina, mum's the word," Arnold said. "But you see that a lot in these long races, nobody really wants to talk about it."
"It almost seems like talking about it is admitting you picked the wrong horse," he said. "No one wants to admit that."
It’s tempting to wonder where the GOP race would be today if Santorum had performed better in South Carolina. Ultimately, it will be seen as a detour to what became two-man race between Romney and Santorum.
LaDonna Ryggs, the Spartanburg GOP chair, believes voters were still thinking about 2008 when they chose the more moderate John McCain over Mike Huckabee. But she also thinks there was genuine feeling for Gingrich.
“He hit 40 percent of the vote,” Ryggs said. “It was not a protest vote. People liked him.”
Ryggs pointed out that Romney was the frontrunner from the start and many conservatives wanted him to be tested in the primary.
“The goal was to vet him and make him prove his conservatism,” Ryggs said. “Which is what has happened. Romney has had to tack to the right, and conservatives will always hold his feet to the fire.”
Conservative voters Patch spoke to say they will vote for Romney because he’s ultimately better than another four years of Barack Obama. But there is still a lack of passion.
As Kizer said, “Nobody is excited about Romney. He doesn’t make people want to go out and campaign and raise money for him.”
Excitement is precisely what Gingrich generated with his win in South Carolina, but the former Speaker appears destined to be but a footnote in presidential politics.
Nevertheless, Gingrich’s win here means that he will always have a spot in state political lore. And if a place in the history books isn’t enough, the $4,400 he still owes the state GOP will keep him in bank books for a little while, too.