South Carolina Predictions

January 21, 2012

With voters heading to the polls in South Carolina today for the first southern Republican presidential primary, here are my predictions for what will happen. In Iowa I got 89 percent of the vote correct (see post here) and in New Hampshire I got 83 percent correct (see post here). Hopefully I can do a little better in the Palmetto State, but it has been a crazy week with two candidates dropping out, the Iowa results officially changing, new sexual allegations against former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich that led to dramatic debate moments, and more verbal missteps by former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney regarding his wealth. Feel free to add your own predictions in the comments section.

1. Gingrich will win (the photo is one I took of him in Iowa in August). Although he could slip down to second--where he was until the last couple of days of polling--he has momentum and is quickly rising. Thus, he will likely win by several percentage points. Now that former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum has been belatedly declared the winner in Iowa, if Gingrich wins South Carolina it would make this election the first time in modern campaigns that the first three states have gone for three different candidates in a Republican presidential race. That is just one more sign of how bizarre and unstable this campaign has been! Gingrich's rise comes even as he faces allegations from his second ex-wife that he wanted an "open marriage." Yet, he seems to have turned the issue to his favor by doing what he does best--attack the media. It may seem surprising that a candidate with as much negative baggage as Gingrich could win the South Carolina primary--which has gone for the eventual Republican nominee in every election since 1980. But as Gingrich explained during the debate Thursday night:

I think the destructive, vicious, negative nature of much of the news media makes it harder to govern this country, harder to attract decent people to run for public office.
Interestingly, Gingrich is saying no decent people run for office today, which is quite comical since he is saying that while running and doing well. Guess even Gingrich is admitting the electorate is stuck with candidates like him because decent ones will not run in today's media environment!

2. Romney, who just a few days ago looked like he would win South Carolina by double-digits and coast to the nomination is likely to be a distant second. Romney had a bad week as he found out he lost Iowa, took a lot of hits on his wealth and his refusal to release his tax returns, and saw the anti-Romney vote unite some with the departure of Texas Governor Rick Perry (see post here). A win in South Carolina would have put Romney as the clear frontrunner and made him seem to many to be the inevitable nominee. Now, he will once again be faced with the fact that he is unable to unite most of the Party behind him. Romney will, however, do much better than his fourth-place finish in 2008 when he only captured 15 percent of the vote.

3. Fighting for third and fourth places (out of four) are U.S. Representative Ron Paul and Santorum. Paul will likely do better for a few reasons. First, as he has demonstrated in other states, his supporters are quite devoted and have made him a real presence in this campaign. As in Iowa and New Hampshire, he will do much better than in 2008--when his four percent earned him fifth place in South Carolina. Second, the departure of former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman will help Paul some, although it helps Romney more. Third, the rise of Gingrich hurts Santorum as the two are fighting for many of the same conservative anti-Romney voters. A last place finish for Santorum would be a blow to the credibility of conservative evangelical leaders who gathered in Texas last weekend and endorsed him over Gingrich (see post here).

4. Former presidential candidate Herman Cain will come in fifth place. Although he left the race in December before any votes were even cast (see post here), comedian Stephen Colbert has been urging people to vote for Cain. Last week, Colbert announced he was considering running for president in South Carolina--like he tried to during the Democratic primary in 2008--but it is too late to get on the ballot and write-in votes are not allowed. Therefore, he decided to borrow the name of a candidate already on the ballot. Cain even joined Colbert for a rally yesterday in Charleston. Although the joke vote will mostly bring in people who were not going to vote, it could draw some votes away from Paul (since Paul does best with younger voters). Cain will not get too many votes, but he could do well enough to help bring more attention to Colbert's political efforts.

So I put the order at: Gingrich (40%), Romney (30%), Paul (15%), Santorum (13%), Cain (1%).

UPDATE [1-25-12]: Well, I underestimated Santorum's strength--likely because the evangelical vote increased from 60 percent of the vote in 2008 to 65 percent this time. Thus, Santorum did four points better than I predicted. I got Gingrich and Cain correct and had Romney and Paul each off by just two points. That made this my best state. While I got the vote 89 percent correct in Iowa and 83 percent correct in New Hampshire, I got it 92 percent correct in South Carolina. Here are the final results: Gingrich (40%), Romney (28%), Santorum (17%), Paul (13%), Cain (1%).