As you likely know, former Speaker Newt Gingrich emerged as the winner of yesterday’s South Carolina Republican primary with a staggering 40.4%. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney placed in a distant second with 27.8% followed by former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum at 17%. In last place was Representative Ron Paul of Texas with 13%. Regardless how other pundits might try to spin this result, this news ought to come as a huge disappointment to my fellow Ron Paul supporters.
Looking at the results from the Huffington Post, you find that Mitt Romney won three of the counties while Gingrich picked up the rest. Neither Santorum nor Paul managed to win a single one. However, the news gets even grimmer. With the exception of Abbeville County where he finished second, and neighboring Greenwood where he placed third, in every other county Ron Paul finished dead last. Last!
Now, I understand the desire to try to paint as rosy a picture as possible for the Paul campaign. For example, Jack Hunter’s Paulitical Ticker boldly reads, “Paul quadrupled his 2008 numbers after tripling them in New Hampshire and Iowa.” Although that fact is certainly true, Paul’s numbers were much higher than they were four years ago, they were still worse than any of his three rivals. Last I checked, there is no ribbon for the candidate who is “most improved.” You either win delegates or you go home with nothing. Unfortunately, Paul’ result in South Carolina is in the latter situation.
Let’s look at this matter in another light. Today, four NFL teams are competing for two spots in the Superbowl. At 6:30 PM, my New York Giants are taking on the San Francisco 49ers. While the winning team will proceed onward into the possibility of glory, the loser will go home with nothing and will be a mere footnote in the history of the game, an otherwise impressive season quickly forgotten by a majority of fans and commentators. Such a fate will befall the two Republican candidates who fail to claim mantle as the conservative alternative to Mitt Romney. Even though delegates are awarded somewhat proportionally, winning comes first. For those casually watching the race, currently Santorum, Gingrich, and Romney have each won a state. Isn’t John Q. Public wondering where is Paul’s state? Doesn’t he need to win at least one?
Now, I’ll admit it. Perhaps I hold the South Carolina result in too high a regard for two reasons. First, four years ago, I campaigned vigorously in that very state on behalf of the Paul campaign. Second, and far more importantly, since 1980 every GOP candidate who has won the nomination also has also won South Carolina. It is historically a far better predictor than either the Iowa or New Hampshire contests that preceded it.
Looking to my time in South Carolina, I was quite impressed by the spirit of optimism and hard work displayed among the volunteers. I was hopeful that the seeds sown four years ago, properly nurtured, would blossom into at least a third place finish this year. But I haven’t been back there since then so it has been difficult to gauge how the tree of liberty has either flourished or withered.
Moving on, in Florida’s upcoming Republican primary, the Paul campaign has announced that they will not compete. Although I’d certainly like to see Paul be competitive everywhere, I can understand this decision. Funds must be spent wisely and as Florida is choosing to defy RNC rules by making their primary as winner-take-all, there is no victory for anyone other than the first place candidate, a monumental task.
Getting back to the situation in South Carolina, Mr. Hunter also writes, “Ron Paul campaigned in South Carolina for a grand total of four days.” I guess that this point is meant to downplay the South Carolina result, reminding us that he did exceedingly well given the very little effort put forth. Or perhaps that he knew South Carolina was a lost cause. Either way, one does wonder if even these scant four days in South Carolina could have been better used to bolster the future result someplace else. Then again, I’ll freely admit that it is far easier to be an armchair campaigner than someone deep in the thick of it.
The bottom line is that Paul needs a strong showing and he needs one soon if he wishes to remain competitive. As already mentioned, he almost certainly won’t find this critical boost in Florida. Therefore, that leaves a handful of states before the all-important Super Tuesday. Spin it how you like, but I believe that the dead last loss in South Carolina is a heavy blow. I remain hopeful but concerned.