Republican voters go to the polls Saturday in South Carolina in the latest showdown between the four remaining contenders for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination. South Carolina is only the third state to vote so far in the lengthy process of party primaries and caucus votes that eventually will select a Republican nominee to run against President Barack Obama in November. But in the past, South Carolina has been a good predictor of the eventual Republican nominee.
Public opinion polls show a close race in South Carolina between former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and the former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Newt Gingrich of Georgia.
“With your help and the help of other good citizens across the state of South Carolina, we are going to take the first big step toward ensuring that a conservative is nominated for president of the United States,” said Gingrich.
Hopes run high
Gingrich hopes that a late surge in South Carolina will carry him to victory and establish him as the main conservative challenger to Romney. Romney finished a close second in the Iowa caucuses to former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum and easily won the New Hampshire primary.
Gingrich was endorsed by Texas Governor Rick Perry this week after Perry dropped out of the race. But Gingrich also was put on the defensive after allegations by one of his ex-wives, Marianne Gingrich, who said the former speaker wanted an "open marriage" to accommodate his involvement with another woman in the late 1990’s.
A Romney victory in South Carolina would solidify his position as the frontrunner in the Republican race. Romney has acknowledged the race is tightening, but says he would be the strongest Republican candidate to take on President Obama in November.
“This campaign is not just about replacing one person as president. This campaign is about taking back America and restoring American values and I will do that,” said Romney.
But Romney has had a difficult week. Officials in Iowa announced that rival Rick Santorum got more votes January 3 in the caucus voting, even though Romney had been proclaimed the winner initially. And Romney found himself on the defensive over demands that he release his tax return information. Romney said he will probably do so in April, but the issue continues him to dog him on the campaign trail.
Santorum would like to top Gingrich as the main conservative alternative to Romney, and hopes to build on the news that he was the top vote-getter in Iowa earlier in the month.
Santorum was busy urging supporters to get out and vote the day before the primary.
“Speak clearly. Speak boldly. Speak for the principles that make this country the greatest country in the history of the world," said Santorum. "Do not compromise! Lead!”
Texas Congressman Ron Paul also remains in the race, and is focused on cutting the national debt and pulling back U.S. troops from bases around the world.
“The last 10 years our foreign wars have contributed $4 trillion worth of debt. And that is money out of our economy.”
Long road remains
Even before the South Carolina results are clear, political experts are now predicting a possibly long and drawn out battle for the Republican nomination.
Political strategist Matthew Dowd appeared on ABC’s Good Morning America program.
“This thing has become another wide open race. Every time that we think that a chapter is closing, we get a brand new chapter coming into this,” said Dowd.
After South Carolina, the Republican campaign moves on to Florida, the largest state so far, which holds a primary on January 31.