Tonight the endless campaign marches on southward to South Carolina, where the remaining six GOP candidates will debate yet again. They’re playing to a new audience this time, though. (Granted.. in 2016 you’re always playing to a national audience, but they’re trying to win over the locals here and they have one week to do it.) We’re definitely moving into some new turf here and the candidates will all have to adjust. Iowa and New Hampshire, while different in their own ways, are both largely white, northern or Midwestern enclaves with small populations and a lot of rural ground to cover. This next stop is a whole ‘nother ballgame which could get a bit more nasty while requiring a delicate touch. Kathleen Parker predicts there will be blood in South Carolina.

Out on the hustings, people often ask me: “Can you explain South Carolina?”

I just shake my head.

It’s complicated, I say.

The simple answer, eternal and everlasting, is anti-secessionist James Petigru’s remark: “South Carolina is too small for a republic and too large for an insane asylum.”

I’ve heard plenty about Minnesota Nice, but I get the impression that South Carolina Nice is a slightly different creature. The Donald has taken to holding off on the expletives because it puts some of the voters off. So how does he get his message across? It has to be something that sells for the locals… tough but not too harsh. We may be seeing some of that in the dueling campaign ads that are running. The polls from just the past week show that we’re looking at a battle – yet again – between Trump and Cruz. This should be a fairly natural constituency for Cruz, but Donald is well out in front, 36 to 20. This sets us up for a slug fest.. or does it? In the past they’ve been quite cordial toward each other on the stage, but this time could be different. Those ads blaring at the South Carolina primary voters certainly look that way anyhow. (Bloomberg)

By Friday, fliers paid for by “Cruz for President” appeared in mailboxes attacking Trump’s support of eminent domain. “Donald Trump will stomp on your property rights,” it declared against an illustration of the billionaire real estate mogul stomping on a suburban house. The flier echoed a 60-second Cruz campaign television ad that began earlier this week slamming Trump on the same issue.

But don’t worry, Trump hasn’t been sitting on his hands.

Trump fired back on Friday with a tweet threatening to file a lawsuit against Cruz. “If @TedCruz doesn’t clean up his act, stop cheating, & doing negative ads, I have standing to sue him for not being a natural born citizen,” Trump tweeted.

At least one observer thinks it could be worse than that, with the Trump – Cruz showdown becoming the ugliest one yet.

Cruz spokesman Rick Tyler said the candidate would be “prepared” for Trump, whose campaign he dismissed as unserious. “This is the Seinfeld candidacy,” he said. “It’s a campaign about nothing.”

The escalation of the conflict between the two leading candidates for the Republican nomination comes as they contest a state that has refined the political dirty trick to a fine art and where the mogul is accusing a “dishonest” Cruz of orchestrating anti-Trump robocalls.

At the same time, Rubio and Jeb Bush are fighting it out on the airwaves. Jeb! went so far as to use the The P Word describing Marco. (That’s “phony.” Get your mind out of the gutter.) These two may be locked in a battle for third place and the right to go on to Nevada, at least if you listen to all the pundits. But seriously, does anyone honestly see either of them dropping out next weekend if they don’t take third? Each has significant money left and they both seem to believe that they are the eventual Establishment Lane Candidate of Destiny. They have to keep believing that the other will drop out or run out of cash sooner or later.

That leaves us with Kasich and Carson. I don’t know how much of a cash bump Kasich got out of his runner up showing in New Hampshire, but if this new ARG poll is close to accurate his jump in support was significant. (Maybe they really like the happy, nice guy approach down there?) I’ll want to see more of these repeating before I buy into it fully, but the guy could be on the rise leaving perhaps nobody dropping out. I only say that because there doesn’t seem to be any sort of news or advice that’s convincing Ben Carson that he’s missed the train. Just yesterday he told Politico that he had raised another two million just since February 1st giving him the ability to keep fighting or, as they put it, to wait for a miracle.

One last thing to consider as we wait for the curtain to go up… how much do looks count? At least according to some eggheads, more than we might even imagine. In fact, your reaction to the performance of the candidates may all come down to your orbitofrontal cortex. (WSJ)

It’s all window-dressing, you might say; only the candidates’ positions matter. But in politics, looks count more than we care to admit.

Indeed, we often clinch our political decisions a split-second after we see a candidate and don’t change them much over time. In a 2006 study published in Psychological Science and led by Alexander Todorov of Princeton University, subjects who selected favorites after a brief glance at snapshots of unfamiliar candidates were able to predict who would win nearly 70% of the 2004 Senate and House races. When the researchers gave people more time to decide, they simply confirmed their first impressions.

In another study, published in 2008 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Prof. Todorov and colleague Nikolaas Oosterof digitally manipulated people’s facial features in photos, revealing just what makes us fall so hard for a candidate. They showed that a rounded, baby-faced appearance with prominent cheekbones, arched inner eyebrows and a sunny demeanor makes a person seem trustworthy.

Baby faced with prominent cheekbones? How the heck is Rubio not in first place by a mile?

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