Written by Benny Johnson
The South Carolina primary will be Mitt Romney’s first electability test south of the Mason-Dixon line. The former Governor will be up against an electorate he has struggled to connect with in the past. South Carolina’s typical Primary voter is Baptist, lower to middle class (on a National average) with a higher minority makeup than both New Hampshire and Iowa combined. According to research polls, here are the five major hurdles Gov. Romney will have to contend with in the unique SC battle.
5. The Southern Baptist Convention
Although the ‘Mormon Issue’ has become a lesser millstone this cycle, it has hurt Romney in the past. Particularly in the “Bible Belt”, where 78% of churchgoers are self-identified Baptist/Evangelical and not shy in their suspicions with Mormonism. Romney was hammered on the religious issue in 2008 but a great deal of normalization has taken place within the Republican base on the issue since then. Newt Gingrich made national news firing a staffer who referred to Mormonism as a ‘cult.’ However, SC has the second highest Evangelical church attendance in the country and this week that attendance was given a moratorium by a large gathering of their leaders for another candidate (see #2).
4. Ramped up Negative Campaigning
South Carolina is seen as a ‘last stand’ for multiple campaigns. Running low on time and money, Newt, Perry and Santorum camps are waging a messaging war that makes Iowa and New Hampshire look tame. Political ad buys are up 13% in SC and negative campaigning is in full swing a la the recent “gloves off” Santorum and Newt camps. Effectiveness has yet to be determined, but if last nights debate is any hint, Romney is going to see the harshest, most desperate arguments of the campaign aimed directly at him in the Palmetto State.
3. Bain Capitol Legacy
Yes, Mitt Romney did shutter some businesses, thousands got laid off and Bain Capitol made some money. However, the grievances against this practice depends on your point of view. Free market mainstream Conservatism has no problem with the natural practice of businesses and industry rising and falling. To some in SC, Romney’s legacy at Bain might hit closer to home. SC is among the leaders in the South for the production of textile goods, chemical products, paper products, machinery, automobiles and automotive products. Such industries, particularly automotive, have seen a significant reduction in employment and productivity in this recession. SC was hit harder than most, suffering 12.3% unemployment and loosing nearly 100,000 jobs at its worst point in the last four years. Without a swift, resounding response from the Romney team, the “King of Bain” title might stick with some effected voters.
2. Santorum Rising
An enlightening part of last night’s debate is the late feistiness of Sen. Rick Santorum. Assailing Romney in the best ‘gotcha’ moment of the night, Santorum used a well-crafted argument to trap Romney in a corner over the contentious issue of voting rights for felons. Expect Santorum to willingly take up the mantle of criticism against Romney in his newfound fame. Santorum has long considered himself the only “True Conservative” in the race and cites Romney as the biggest offender of centrist politics. Santorum has been boosted by his latecomer status. Written off as a joke for much of the campaigning months, Santorum showed electoral vitality in NH and cemented his position as an anti-Romney in Iowa. He was never the target of any substantial attacks or political hit jobs and maintains a well-crafted ‘every-man’ image that will play well in SC. All of this is further accentuated by the endorsement over the weekend by a group of national evangelical leaders in Texas. This coveted endorsement of more than 150 conservative religious leaders will be persuasive in SC’s highly evangelical voting population.
1. East Coast Centrist Record
Mitt’s greatest hurdle may be his own governance record. Reagan cemented this electoral win in South Carolina some 30 years ago by uniting the fickle South Carolina primary electorate with a message that brought together economic libertarians, defense hawks and social conservatives. As Governor of Massachusetts Romney has taken many well defined moderate stances. These have been widely reported and seized upon by his opponents. The criticism is out there. The task for the next few days will be convincing the electorate that ‘moderate’ is not the way he will govern the Country. SC has sizable contingents of limited government, military and evangelical voters. None of them are happy with the way things are going. Can Mitts message connect and convince them that he is the Anti-Obama in spite of the roaring calls otherwise?
Photo by Dave Davidson – Prezography.com