South Carolina Primary: What’s in Store for Romney, Gingrich, Ron Paul and Santorum?

Opinion

 
on January 21 2012 6:44 AM
Santorum, Romney, Gingrich and Ron Paul at the CNN South Carolina 2012 Debate
Santorum, Romney, Gingrich and Ron Paul at the CNN South Carolina 2012 Debate Reuters

The South Carolina Republican primary is just a few hours away. The scenario cannot be more dramatic than it is now in the Palmetto state. In a roller coaster campaign that saw sharp turns and twists in the top front runners' winning chances, the situation remains as unpredictable as it can be.

Early polls indicated a clear sweep by Mitt Romney as he had enjoyed a double digit lead over his nearest rival in the polls till last week. But the developments since Wednesday have changed the scenario all together.   

Gingrich's decision to go behind Romney over the tax returns issue proved brilliant for him, as that rewarded him with the surge he badly needed, and Gingrich succeeded in undercutting Romney's image as the chosen one.

Gingrich's campaign indeed got a boost from Sarah Palin's endorsement.  Rick Perry's exit from the race and his support to Gingrich happened at the right time. Now Gingrich can attract a larger section of Perry's supporters while consolidating the support of anti-Romney voters.

In fact, Romney almost pressed the self-destruction button by refusing to declare his tax returns immediately. He failed miserably in predicting the outcome of being non-transparent in presidential polls.

Ron Paul and his brigade were comparatively less active in South Carolina.  Their strategy, of course, is to choose the states where they can reap maximum benefit with minimum investment. South Carolina, a conservative state, doesn't fit that bill. Still, they have a fair amount of lead in the state and in all probability will retain the present vote share they have.

What Will Happen?

There are two possibilities for all the positions in the poll: The fight for the top position is between Romney and Gingrich, and that for the third position is between Paul and Santorum.

If Romney wins with a short margin, a close second win will strengthen Gingrich's case as an alternate choice for anti-Romney voters. If Romney wins with a good margin, then it will be tough for both Gingrich and Santorum to hold him back any more. It is now or never for both the candidates.

If Gingrich wins with convincing margin and Romney is in the second place, then Gingrich will emerge as the anti-Romney candidate.  It will lead to conservatives rallying behind him and enhance his national acceptability. The fight will go to Florida and beyond as both candidates will have one win each. However, Gingrich will be in trouble as far as the Virginia poll is considered, as he is not in ballot there.  

Ron Paul and Santorum

Santorum, who had a double digit vote share in earlier polls thanks to his good performance in Iowa, saw a drastic fall in support in recent polls. Currently, he is trailing behind Ron Paul and is in a tight race with him for the third place.

If Ron Paul wins the third position, then it will affect Santorum's chances directly. It will be a matter of time for him to drop out.  As in Iowa, if Santorum gains the support from undecided anti- Romney, anti-Gingrich voters will see him in the third place.

However, even if Santorum is in the third place, one might not see much decrease in the vote share Paul gets. According to the polls, his voting share looks steady and unwavering. It is sure that the outcome of the South Carolina will not determine Paul's chances.

Whether the mainstream media and his rivals take him seriously or not , for sure he will move on to the next state and then to Nevada and Minnesota where he has better chances of scoring.  The fervent supporters he has cannot imagine him dropping out of the race and they might not allow him to do that at this stage or in the near future.

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