The current Republican primary has not been for the faint of heart and it is about to get worse. South Carolina, the site of the next Republican primary, is infamous for its underhanded political tricks. Attacks on candidate’s families, theft of election materials, and shady third party operators utilising push polling to attack candidate’s records are all part of the game. Here is what you should watch.
- Cruz’s Vulnerability as the Evangelical Candidate.
Currently, Donald Trump enjoys a strong lead in the state, with most polls putting him above the 30 percent threshold, with a double digit lead over his closest rival, Senator Ted Cruz. South Carolina is important state for the Republicans as the state is heavily evangelical, as are a significant portion of the Republican base. In 2012, 65 percent of Republican voters in South Carolina self-identified as evangelical. Heading into Super Tuesday, must win states like Alabama, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Tennessee all have more than 40 percent of their population that identify as evangelical, and in Georgia, Texas, and Virginia more than 30 percent identify as evangelical.
If Trump can garner a significant amount of support from evangelical voters on Saturday, it will complicate Ted Cruz’s Southern strategy and continue Trump’s fantastical journey. Early on, while the rest of the field was concentrated on the early voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire, Cruz invested his time in the Southern states, believing that it was critical to establish campaign infrastructure in this delegate-rich and strongly evangelical region. Cruz is correct on this measure; this is where the Republican race is decided and none of the other candidates has a network that comes close to rivalling his. However, this network is vulnerable if Cruz is unable to capture a majority of the evangelical vote in South Carolina. A loss to the Donald in an environment that should favour Cruz will be hard to shake off and will prolong Trump’s campaign.
- The End of Either Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio, or Both.
South Carolina looks like the end of the road for either Governor Bush or Senator Rubio, or potentially both. For Bush’s campaign to continue, he must finish above Senator Rubio, an almost insurmountable task given his anaemic levels of support. Despite the intervention of his popular brother, President George W., and the support of South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, Jeb has not improved his position. At this stage of the race, it does not look like Governor Bush’s campaign will continue past South Carolina. However, the challenge is even greater for Senator Rubio. After a widely panned 5th place result in New Hampshire, Rubio has shot back into contention for a strong finish in South Carolina. He has also secured the support of Governor Nikki Haley and Senator Tim Scott, lending a much needed boost to his campaign. However, this increases the pressure on him to secure a strong second place finish, anything less will give ammunition to his opponents who claim he is unready for primetime. If Rubio survives South Carolina, he will need to perform strongly in Nevada to keep his chances alive. In the event that Bush and Rubio are widely eclipsed by Senator Ted Cruz, both their campaigns may be in trouble.
- Carson and Kasich.
Both Ben Carson and Governor John Kasich are polling behind Jeb Bush. Several months ago, Carson’s support among evangelicals approached stratospheric heights, but a series of stumbles has seen his support nosedive. Weak finishes in Iowa and New Hampshire have put increasing pressure on Carson’s message. By contrast, Kasich’s support has hovered around high single digits for months. His second place finish in New Hampshire was a high point for a campaign that was unable to convert that support into a strong position in South Carolina. After Bush, Kasich was the great hope of the Republican establishment leery of Rubio’s inexperience. Their departure will essentially confirm that this is a three-candidate race.
Trump is going to win South Carolina, but second place will be enough of a victory for the Cruz and Rubio campaigns.
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