From 1980 through 2008, South Carolina primary voters chose the candidate who ended up winning the GOP nomination every single time, giving rise to a favorite local expression: “We pick presidents.” But that streak came to an end in 2012 when the state’s GOP voters chose Newt Gingrich. South Carolina politicos worried that diminished the state’s influence; certainly the eventual nominee, Mitt Romney, didn’t owe anything to South Carolina.
Now, a Graham run could further complicate the South Carolina picture. If the state’s Republican voters support a favorite son who has no chance of winning nationwide, they could again see themselves reduced to an irrelevancy in the nominating process.
Something similar happened to Iowa in 1992, when Sen. Tom Harkin ran in and won the Democratic caucuses. Harkin lost almost everything else and dropped out of the race — meaning Iowa Democrats had very little influence in picking the party’s nominee…
So if Graham decides to go ahead, South Carolina will face a 2016 dilemma: support a native son or play a possibly decisive role in the Republican nominating process. With memories of the 2012 primary still very much in mind, the state’s voters might choose to preserve their own influence rather than support one of their own. “Remember, South Carolina likes to say, ‘We pick presidents,'” says David Woodard. “They didn’t get it right in 2012 — and they want to make up for past mistakes now.”