Gaming out the 2012 GOP presidential primaries

South Carolina and Florida: Last Stand?

South Carolina is the only state guaranteed an early primary after New Hampshire, and it’s there that the eventual nominee will probably have to make a good showing. Romney’s likely financial advantage over the field would help him at this point, if he’s still around. But again, it’s unclear where his 2008 supporters in the Palmetto State would go. His most visible South Carolina endorsements back then were from Senator Jim DeMint and an up-and-coming state legislator named Nikki Haley. It’s unlikely that they would endorse Romney two years from now, given another option: DeMint is unlikely to give his “true conservative” imprimatur to the race’s main perceived moderate, and Haley owes a lot more to Sarah Palin for her victory in the 2010 gubernatorial race than she does Mitt.

A big factor in South Carolina will be whether there is at least one surviving conservative candidate from the South—most likely Huckabee or Gingrich—to draw off support from someone like Palin, perhaps helping a relative “moderate” win just as Romney and Huckabee split the conservative vote there in 2008 and tossed the contest to McCain. And if, as in 2008, Florida’s primary occurs right after South Carolina’s, Romney may again have an edge because of money and the fact that he performed very well there in 2008. However it’s worth noting that the new titan of Florida Republican politics, Senator-elect Marco Rubio, backed Mike Huckabee in 2008.