Right after Aaron Goldstein posted this, I saw the lastest Insider Advantage poll in which Mitt Romney fell to third place in South Carolina, behind Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich. Cain has been trouncing Romney in polls throughout the South, and perhaps this third place dynamic catches on. If Romney loses the nomination, the South will be a major reason, as it was in 2008.
But if Romney does win, it will be because a.) he gains considerable momentum before Southern states vote in large numbers and/or b.) he picks off Florida and through wins in the Northeast, Midwest, and West is able to isolate the Southern states that vote against him. Yet South Carolina can’t be written off entirely.
Romney has led in two of the last four polls in South Carolina, albeit by very narrow margins. He led there pretty consistently between Gingrich’s early slide and Rick Perry’s rise. South Carolina has rescued the frontrunner in every competitive GOP race since 1980. Momentum also makes a difference, and if Romney comes in on the heels of wins in Iowa and New Hampshire — the specific hypothetical we’re discussing here — he’d have lots of it.
Cain has been on the radio in South Carolina and is popular there. The state is also potential Gingrich country. I don’t consider a Romney win in South Carolina likely at all — he finished fourth there last time around — but neither is it inconceivable. More importantly, if Romney wins enough other early states he could potentially absorb a Palmetto loss. That’s why a Republican who wants to beat Romney will try to hold him to New Hampshire and Nevada at most.