South Carolina: Where the remaining candidates stand and the significance of the Palmetto State’s primary
With much of the political punditry all but declaring Mitt Romney the 2012 Republican nominee, I decided to take a brief look at each of the remaining candidates to see what, if any, are the chances of them actually achieving the nomination as we move deeper into the primaries. I’ve coupled the campaign fundraising totals with the overall support of each candidate to portray a kind of “candidacy vitality profile.”
Politico recently reported that “Rick Santorum raised just over $1 million in the 24 hours after his eight-vote loss in the caucuses.” While this is welcome news for a campaign that has had nearly no money throughout this entire process, I find myself doubting the longevity of this new found support. Santorum’s “feel-good” near-win in Iowa was a nice story, but the fact is that he has no national organization and very little money on hand, despite the recent donations. Keeping in mind his overall message, its not surprising that he fell way down the candidate line in New Hampshire so his performance in South Carolina will determine his campaign’s future . Not only will Santorum need a thoroughly surprising win or strong second place showing in South Carolina, but he will also need a huge influx of donors in order to justify his campaign continuing the race much longer.
As is to be expected, Ron Paul’s donations have stayed strong. Raking in another $13 million in Q4, he has actually surpassed his Q3 donations by roughly $5 million. This essentially means that the candidates who remain past South Carolina should get used to his presence because he certainly has the ability to ride his strong, yet limited support deep into the primary contests.
Buoyed by his move to the top of the pack which occurred right in the middle of Q4, Gingrich’s numbers are fairly strong, pulling in nearly $10 million according to some reports. In December, Gingrich’s numbers began to decline and presumably, so too did his donations. It is likely that the bulk of his money came in early on in the quarter. This tells me that Gingrich supporters are willing to “pony up the dough”, but unlike the steadfast Paul supporters, they are going to need to see the possibility of a return on their investment. Gingrich is currently polling in a solid second in South Carolina and he’ll need to remain in that top-tier if he wants to see the money start coming in again. Another 4th place finish would be a nearly insurmountable hurdle for his campaign to take on.
Mitt Romney had yet another strong quarter. Reports have him coming in at over $20 million for the final leg of the 2011 earnings report, which is going to go a long way in helping him build his national organization. He’s already begun a fairly significant amount of campaigning in Florida, but Mitt would do well not to neglect South Carolina. Recent polls suggest that Newt Gingrich is hot on his tail in the Palmetto State, and in some he’s even within the statistical margin of error. Although Romney doesn’t need South Carolina to win the nomination, if one of the other conservative candidates (namely Gingrich) pulls off a win there, it could create a much stronger opponent to Romney in Florida and beyond.
Most reports have Perry coming in at just under $5 million for Q4. His brief hesitation following the Iowa caucuses hasn’t garnered him much faith among his supporters as he tries to cling to the comparative few who are still donating to his fledgling campaign. Judging by the sharp decline in donations from Q3 to Q4, coupled with disappointing results in Iowa and New Hampshire, Perry’s campaign is all but out of the race and will need nothing short of miracle in South Carolina to justify continuing on.
There isn’t much out there on Jon Huntsman’s fundraising numbers for Q4 but it can be assumed that they won’t be placing him among the top-tier candidates. Huntsman had a fairly good showing in New Hampshire, but this was due in large part to the huge volume of “independents” who came out to vote in the nation’s first primary. Garnering only a third place finish with 17% of the vote after forgoing the Iowa caucuses to campaign more in New Hampshire serves only to confirm what we already know, Huntsman will not be the Republican presidential candidate in 2012.
Although Romney has won both Republican contests thus far, his nomination isn’t quite sealed up yet. I think that a win or a close second for Gingrich in South Carolina could pose a problem for the Romney campaign. Gingrich has already signaled that he intends to turn up the heat on Romney next week in Florida, and what’s more is that he actually has the money to do so. A good showing for him in South Carolina could really slow the momentum Romney has built up over the last few weeks. Other than that, it doesn’t appear likely that any of the other candidates can legitimately challenge Romney. While Ron Paul has the money to do so, he lacks the breadth of support necessary. While Santorum might end up with a decent amount of support, he lacks the money and national organization required to broaden that support. Rick Perry is clearly on his way out, and Jon Huntsman never really got in.
The most important thing that conservatives need to take away from this is that they must work to coalesce around a single candidate, and they need to do so quickly. The fractured conservative voting bloc is playing right into the Romney campaign’s hands. If conservatives want to challenge Romney, they’re going to need to come together in South Carolina.