The most important Republican Presidential primary over the last 30 years has been South Carolina. The candidate who wins South Carolina always wins the nomination. Candidates can lose New Hampshire and Iowa, but if they lose South Carolina, they never win the nomination. In the past, South Carolina has been the place where insurgent campaigns go to die. I have previously written at PJM:
Pro-business mainstream conservatives who give no offense to evangelicals and mainline Protestants — and, ideally, who have demonstrable national security credibility — are the candidates who win the South Carolina primary.
You can read that sentence and see why candidates like Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and Mitch Daniels all have problems in South Carolina. Lexington County is perhaps the most important large county in the state. This past weekend, the county GOP held a convention and straw poll. The obviously unscientific results are surprising. They are proof that politics in South Carolina are changing. Just a decade ago, this would have never ever happened:
First choice winners in order:
Ron Paul, Mitt Romney, Donald Trump, Haley Barbour, Mike Huckabee, Michelle Bachmann, Herman Cain.
Second choice winners in order:
Michelle Bachmann, Mitt Romney, Haley Barbour, Donald Trump, Newt Gingrich
More data and the full list with percentages at the link. I cannot emphasize enough, a decade ago, this would have never happened. Romney might have won, with Barbour in a close second. Paul is unlikely to win the state, but it shows how the rank and file of the Republican Party is no longer the party of Governor Carroll Campbell. Paul being the first choice and Bachmann the most popular second says a great deal about the changing face of the South Carolina presidential primary in 2012.
UPDATE: I’m told by someone in the GOP leadership that the big loser was Barbour. He actually showed up in person for the straw poll and finished fourth. The delegate reports he offered himself to the South Carolina crowd as “one of you.”