"Since the inception of the South Carolina Primary in 1980, no candidate has ever lost the South Carolina Primary and gone on to become the Republican Party's nominee for President."
                                                --South Carolina Republican Party

First in the South

South Carolina has held the first in the South GOP presidential primary since 1980.  In 2006 the Democratic National Committee voted to add South Carolina as a new pre-window primary, thus affirming its early status.  The primary has acquired a reputation as a GOP "firewall."  In 1992 Pat Buchanan gained a surprisingly strong showing in the New Hampshire primary, but President George H. W. Bush rebounded with a strong showing in South Carolina.  In 2000 Gov. George W. Bush bounced back from his loss to Sen. John McCain in the New Hampshire primary to defeat McCain in South Carolina.  And McCain's 2008 win over former Gov. Mike Huckabee, while not overwhelming, was an important step on his road to the nomination.  2012 added a page to the tradition when Newt Gingrich's strong win in the primary appeared to reconfigure the race.

To participate in the South Carolina Republican primary, candidates were required to pay $25,000 before May 3, 2011 or $35,000 from May 4 to the filing deadline on November 1, 2011 at 5:00 p.m.. Ten candidates filed to compete in the Republican primary: Johnson (May 2), Cain, Paul, Pawlenty and Santorum (May 3), Huntsman (June 22), Romney (Sept. 30 +), Perry (Oct. 27), Gingrich (Oct. 28) and Bachmann (Oct. 28 +); Pawlenty later withdrew and did not want to appear on the ballot.  (Roemer had filed on April 29 but put a stop payment on his check when it became clear he would not be invited to participate in the May 5 debate). 

Following up on Florida's announcement of its move to January 31, 2012, South Carolina Republicans opted to move forward to keep their first in the South status, even at the cost of losing half of their delegates.  On October 3, 2011 GOP Chairman Chad Connelly announced Saturday, January 21, 2012 as the date of the South Carolina Republican presidential primary.  The Democratic National Committee has set Tuesday, February 28, 2012 as the date of the Democratic presidential primary; South Carolina Democrats are holding to that, although it is seen as unlikely they will actually have a primary unless President Obama has a serious challenger.  

Primary Logistics

Unlike in many states, in past South Carolina's presidential primaries have been party-run affairs; this posed a substantial financial and logistical challenge for the state parties which had to raise the funds privately.  The tradition of Saturday voting arose to reduce costs and increase turnout.   Another consequence is those high filing fees as a way to offset the cost.

In mid-2007 the General Assembly passed, over Gov. Mark Sanford (R)'s objections, a bill which required State Election Commission to run the presidential preference primaries, while leaving the setting of the primary dates and other details to the party committees.  The General Assembly passed S99 on June 5, 2007, Gov. Sanford vetoed the bill on June 14, and the General Assembly voted to override the veto on June 19.  The law referred specifically to the 2008 cycle. 

The issue came up again as budget negotiations proceeded in the first half of 2011; Gov. Nikki Haley opposed efforts by legislators to keep money in the budget to fund the 2012 Republican primary. (+) Haley argued that private funds should be used, and she vetoed those provisions on June 28 (Vetoes 27 and 28 of H.3700, The General Appropriation Bill >).  However, on June 29 the legislature overrode that veto.

The estimated cost to run a presidential primary in South Carolina is $1.2 million.  The January 21 GOP primary was covered by $680,000 in state funds and the state party was to pay the rest (+).  Democrats are holding precinct reorganization and presidential preference meetings on January 28 and March 3, 2012; President Obama is the only candidate on the ballot.  (If both parties had state run primaries, the parties would have split the $680,000 in state funds and each party would have covered the rest of the cost of its primary).  See the South Carolina Supreme Court's decision in Beaufort County v. SC Election Commission, issued Nov. 22, 2011.  The State Election Commission oversaw the Republican presidential primary election (more).   

A Varied State

South Carolina has a population of 4.5 million.  Its 46 counties stretch from the Coastal Plain to the Piedmont Plateau (Pee Dee) to the Blue Ridge Mountains.  Just under 30 percent of South Carolina's population consider themselves Black or African American according to the 2000 Census.  There is also a significant veterans population; according to the South Carolina State Office of Veterans' Affairs 413,000 veterans make South Carolina home >

In 2008, McCain won the primary by 33.15% to 29.84% over Huckabee; McCain won in the Southern and coastal congressional districts 1, 2 and 6 while Huckabee won in congressional districts 3, 4 and 5 comprising the Northwest half of the state.  Romney achieved second place finishes in congressional districts 1 and 2.

Phil Noble, president of the South Carolina New Democrats and founder and CEO of Phil Noble & Associates and Politics Online, describes his fellow Palmetto Staters thusly, "I think...we're a little crazy and cantankerous, and we're always sort of different in throwing a monkey wrench in the machinery, but fundamentally I think we're a pretty good reflection of America."  However, South Carolina does have somewhat of a reputation for dirty tricks in politics.  In 2000 there was a whispering campaign against McCain.  In the 2010 cycle there was the mystery of Democratic U.S. Senate nominee Alvin Greene, an unemployed veteran who somehow came up with a $10,000 filing fee. 

A Busy 2010 Set the Stage

Several of the 2012 Republican presidential prospects campaigned for one or another of the candidates in the June 8, 2010 gubernatorial primary.  Mitt Romney was first to endorse then state Rep. Nikki Haley, in March 2010 (Haley backed Romney's 2008 campaign, serving as a co-chair of his Women's Leadership Team >.  Sarah Palin attracted huge attention with her May 13 endorsement of Haley.  Mike Huckabee backed Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer and Rick Santorum backed Rep. Gresham Barrett.  Gov. Haley's support would provide a valuable boost to a presidential candidate.  Sen. Jim DeMint has likewise gained national stature as a Tea Party favorite (early on there was a modest draft Jim DeMint movement).  DeMint's endorsement will be an important one.  Sen. Lindsey Graham has been criticized by conservatives for his positions on such issues as climate change and immigration and his support could be something of a mixed blessing.  (In 2008 DeMint backed Romney and Graham backed McCain).

Field Narrows to Four

The much commented upon slow start to the 2012 presidential campaign was particularly evident in South Carolina.  Through the first quarter of 2011 the state received fewer visits by presidential prospects than Iowa and New Hampshire and there were fewer sign ups of campaign operatives.  Asked about the slow start, Phil Noble stated, "SC has a long history of brutal Republican presidential primaries.  I suspect that one reason that they have been slow to engage down here is the same reason most kids don't stick their hand into a barking pit bull's mouth—once you engage, its going to be painful, noisy, bloody and an altogether nasty experience."  The machinations of Florida Republicans seeking to go early may have affected activity. Iowa and New Hampshire then monopolized most of the candidates' attention, but following the January 10 New Hampshire primary, the full force of the campaign quickly enveloped the Palmetto State. 

Looking at the field of Republican candidates, two of the strongest potential candidates opted against running.  Gov. Haley Barbour had the foundations of a solid organization in place before he announced he would not be a candidate on April 25, 2011.  Former Gov. Mike Huckabee, also a Southerner, was expected to do well, but he ruled out a run on May 14. 

Although nine candidates appeared on the ballot, by January 21 there were only four active campaigns.  Herman Cain dropped out of the race in early December (he remained on the ballot and did appear at a rally with exploratory candidate comedian Stephen Colbert the day before the primary +).  Rep. Michele Bachmann made a strong organizational push in South Carolina but pulled out after her poor showing in the Iowa caucuses.  Former Gov. Jon Huntsman had a campaign in South Carolina, but it made little headway, and he withdrew on January 16.  Gov. Rick Perry appeared to have an early edge here.  On September 21 his campaign announced endorsements of a total of 21 state legislators.  However, the weaknesses that afflcted his candidacy nationally took their toll in South Carolina as well and he withdrew on January 19 and endorsed Gingrich.  That left former Gov. Mitt Romney, former Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Sen. Rick Santorum and Rep. Ron Paul competing in the closing days of the campaign.  






Key Dates

May 5, 2011 - SCGOP/FOX News Debate in Greenville, SC.

Sept. 5, 2011 - The Palmetto Freedom Forum in Columbia, SC.

Nov. 12, 2011 - SCGOP, CBS and National Journal "First in the South" Presidential Debate in Spartanburg, SC.

Jan. 16, 2012 - "First in the South" Republican Presidential Debate in Myrtle Beach, SC. [Prior to SC Primary - SCGOP/FOX News Debate in tbd].

Jan. 19, 2012 - SRLC/CNN Town Hall Debate in Charleston, SC.

Jan. 21, 2012 - Republican Primary

Jan. 28 and March 3, 2012 - Democratic Precinct Organization and Presidential Preference Meetings (effectively the primary)