It’s usually a mistake to infer large messages about presidential primaries from the results in any one state, but sometimes a single primary can be very revealing about the future of individual candidates. That’s almost certainly the case with South Carolina and Ted Cruz.
The Texas senator, currently running second to Donald Trump in both national polls and in the most recent polls of the Palmetto State, is at his strongest among “very conservative” voters and Evangelical Christians. That means that Cruz should be turning in his best performances in the Deep South — the heart of the Bible Belt. If he can’t perform there, election analysts say, there’s good reason to assume that he will struggle in the rest of the country.
That’s why South Carolina looms particularly large for those watching the Cruz campaign. Like other states in the Deep South, it has a majority white, Protestant electorate with a large Evangelical element. His performance there is likely to be at least somewhat predictive of how Cruz does in the “Super Tuesday” primaries on March 1 — possibly the most important day on the calendar for his campaign. With 12 states voting, including Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia, it’s the largest block of Cruz-friendly states on the calendar.
“I think if Cruz underperforms in South Carolina, his campaign will be drinking Maalox before Super Tuesday,” said Republican strategist Ford O’Connell. “The next four weeks are paramount for the Cruz campaign. If they can’t pick up some W’s by then, it’s very hard to see how he can win the nomination.”
At minimum, what Cruz needs on Saturday, O’Connell said, is “a really strong showing coming out of South Carolina, so that even if Trump wins, the media is still talking about him.”