Analysis: Romney's Rivals Running Out Of Time To Stop Him

Lee Bandy knows more about politics in South Carolina than just about anybody. For 40 years, Bandy has been among the best political prophets in a state whose primary has correctly picked every Republican candidate for U.S. President since 1980.

In just over a week, on January 21, the state's, and Bandy's, powers of prognostication will be tested once more, in a Republican primary season whose unpredictable twists and turns have made fools of many prophets.

Right now Bandy, a veteran columnist with The State newspaper in Columbia, is betting on Mitt Romney to win the South Carolina primary, and small wonder.

No Republican candidate has ever followed a win at the Iowa caucus, which Romney secured narrowly last week, with victory in the New Hampshire primary, and virtually everyone but his opponents expects that he will do just that on Tuesday night.

The latest polls show Romney with a 20-point lead over his nearest rival in New Hampshire and recent polls in South Carolina show him having leapfrogged more conservative opponents into first place there.

"A lot of Republicans down here don't like Romney," Bandy said of South Carolina voters. He was referring especially to the two thirds of Republican primary voters in the Palmetto State who are evangelical Christians. They are leery not only of Romney's Mormon faith but also of his earlier moderate positions on abortion and gay marriage, among other social conservative apostasies.

"But many have decided to vote for him because they think he's going to get the nomination. The aim here is to unseat Obama, and there's no real movement toward any other candidate."

"Is the Romney nomination a done deal? If he wins South Carolina it is highly unlikely he will not be the nominee," said Ford O'Connell, a Republican strategist.

AND YET.

"There is a large anti-Romney bloc out there," O'Connell added. If you put together the votes for Santorum, former House of Representatives Speaker Newt Gingrich and Texas Governor Rick Perry into one, "they would have the numbers to beat Romney," he said.

They cannot be rolled into one, of course - unless perhaps they can.

Perhaps the greatest threat Romney faces in South Carolina is from Republican Senator Jim DeMint. A favorite of the conservative anti-Washington Tea Party movement, DeMint has yet to endorse a candidate.

"An endorsement by Jim DeMint would be a huge boost" to a Romney rival ahead of the South Carolina primary, O'Connell said. "It could make all the difference in a tight race."

Read more from Tim Reid at Reuters


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published this page in In The News 2012-01-10 01:00:00 -0500
Analysis & Political Strategy