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February 19th, 2016

South Carolina Primer

firstsouthlogoFour years ago, I spent about ten days in South Carolina for the First in the South primary. It was fascinating getting to experience what it’s like in another early state, and it was also nice to escape Iowa’s winter weather and hang out around the ocean in Myrtle Beach or Charleston. Both cities hosted major presidential debates within the span of days back in 2012.

Heading into South Carolina, I expected it to be similar to Iowa, but you know, just a lot warmer. I had heard about all the evangelical voters there and just assumed it would be a lot like Iowa. I couldn’t have been more wrong. It was an eye opening experience. Yes, there are plenty of evangelical voters there, but I think they are different from Iowa’s brand of evangelicals.

The campaigning is also much more harsh. Some of the radio ads where brutal. If you think things get heated in Iowa, go check out South Carolina in a presidential primary. Just today, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley said, “When you come to South Carolina, it’s a bloodsport. Politics is a bloodsport.” Can you imagine Terry Branstad saying that. Heck, we all went nuts when he said Iowans shouldn’t vote for Sen. Ted Cruz. How tame! I had to chuckle when Haley added, “I wear heels — it’s not for a fashion statement, it’s because you’ve got to be prepared to kick at any time.”

In 2012, South Carolina really ended up being a two-person race between Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich. If you recall, Gingrich owned both the Fox News and CNN debates. The audiences at both events made it sound more like a football game than a presidential debate. Frankly, I think South Carolina in 2012 really foreshadowed what the 2016 Republican presidential campaign has been like in many respects.

Gingrich trounced Romney by securing over 40 percent of the vote compared to Romney’s 28 percent. Rick Santorum, the just crowned winner of the Iowa Caucuses came in third with 17 percent of the vote. Gingrich carried the rural parts of the state and Greenville in the north. Romney had narrow victories in Columbia, Charleston, and in and around Hilton Head.

The 2008 results map probably gives you a better idea of the political geography of the state. Mike Huckabee is in brown and John McCain in tan. While the 2008 had a similar sized field, almost 170,000 more people voted in the South Carolina primary in 2012 than 2008. Still, as results come in it, does give you an idea of what to look for.

Sen. Marco Rubio needs to do well along the coasts and in the more densely populated areas like Columbia, Rock Hill, and Greenville. Sen. Ted Cruz needs to do well in the northern part of the state, including Rock Hill and Greenville, and he needs to be strong in the rural parts of the state. Donald Trump is the wild card, and as we saw in Iowa, he can make the county results map look like a map of a foreign country.

Trump has a similar persona as Gingrich, and with a big lead in the polls, we shouldn’t have to wait long for the networks to project him as the winner if the polls are anywhere close to being accurate. For the rest of the candidates, it’s going to be New Hampshire all over again. Look for a tight battle for the second and third spots. And as we saw in New Hampshire, coming in second place will be just as good as winning so long as your name is not Donald J. Trump.

For the third place finisher, it’s going to be a lot like the 2007 and 2011 Iowa Straw Poll. The third place finishers in those two events, Sam Brownback and Tim Pawlenty, ended their campaigns shortly there after. I’m not saying that either Cruz or Rubio are at risk of having their campaigns blow up over night, but a third place finish is going to hurt either of them in a significant way.

South Carolina is tailor-made for someone like Cruz. In fact, his style of politics fits better there than it does in Iowa, and we saw what his campaign did here in Iowa. Oh, and it’s no coincidence that Conservative Review held a convention in Greenville on Thursday night since they are in the bag for Cruz. Rubio, on the other hand, has the endorsement of Haley, U.S. Senator Tim Scott, and Congressman Trey Gowdy, all three being next generation leaders. When you have those kinds of endorsements, you should be talking about winning, not coming in second.

Trump’s fine so long as he wins. If he loses, sound the alarms. A loss would be devastating considering where he stands in the polls. John Kasich is out just to finish ahead of Jeb Bush, and if he does, that may end Bush’s candidacy. Bush simply needs to surprise, which means he’s in the same boat as Dr. Ben Carson.

It should be a fun Saturday night. I hope my meager knowledge of South Carolina is somewhat helpful. I just wish I was back in Charleston, what a great city!


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About the Author

Craig Robinson
Craig Robinson is the founder and editor-in-chief of, a political news and commentary site he launched in March of 2009. Robinson’s political analysis is respected across party lines, which has allowed him to build a good rapport with journalist across the country. Robinson has also been featured on Iowa Public Television’s Iowa Press, ABC’s This Week, and other local television and radio programs. Campaign’s & Elections Magazine recognized Robinson as one of the top influencers of the 2012 Iowa Caucuses. A 2013 Politico article sited Robinson and as the “premier example” of Republican operatives across the country starting up their own political news sites. His website has been repeatedly praised as the best political blog in Iowa by the Washington Post, and in January of 2015, Politico included him on the list of local reporters that matter in the early presidential states. Robinson got his first taste of Iowa politics in 1999 while serving as Steve Forbes’ southeast Iowa field coordinator where he was responsible for organizing 27 Iowa counties. In 2007, Robinson served as the Political Director of the Republican Party of Iowa where he was responsible for organizing the 2007 Iowa Straw Poll and the 2008 First-in-the-Nation Iowa Caucuses. Following the caucuses, he created his own political news and commentary site, Robinson is also the President of Global Intermediate, a national mail and political communications firm with offices in West Des Moines, Iowa, and Washington, D.C. Robinson utilizes his fundraising and communications background to service Global’s growing client roster with digital and print marketing. Robinson is a native of Goose Lake, Iowa, and a 1999 graduate of St. Ambrose University in Davenport, where he earned degrees in history and political science. Robinson lives in Ankeny, Iowa, with his wife, Amanda, and son, Luke. He is an active member of the Lutheran Church of Hope.

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