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Sanford's Implosion Turns S.C. Into 2012 Toss Up

The South Carolina presidential primary in 2012 is now wide open

Lost amid the salaciousness of Mark Sanford's disappearance, admission of an affair with an Argentine woman and his description of her as his soul mate (can you believe that happened?), is the fact that the political and personal implosion of the South Carolina governor has effectively thrown the Palmetto State's 2012 presidential primary wide open.

Sanford was rightly regarded as a heavy favorite in the South Carolina presidential primary due to a demonstrated fondness in national politics for favorite son candidates. (The most prominent -- and recent -- example of this phenomenon came in 1992 when Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin's (D) presidential candidacy turned the Hawkeye State's caucus into a non-competitive affair.)

Without him in the 2012 field, however, the state, which has voted for the man who has gone on to win the presidential nomination in every primary, becomes the purest of toss ups with no obvious favorite in the prospective field.

"Mark would have been South Carolina's favorite son in 2012," said Richard Quinn, a prominent South Carolina Republican consultant who helped run Sen. John McCain's efforts in the state in 2000 and 20008. "The other candidates would have bypassed us or else made only a token effort here. Now the Palmetto State is up for grabs again."

An initial analysis of the 2008 South Carolina Republican primary results suggest that former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee might have a head start in 2012 given that he placed second -- with 30 percent -- behind McCain (33 percent) and ahead of fellow conservative Fred Thompson (16 percent).

The after-action report in South Carolina suggested that Huckabee, Thompson and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (15 percent) split the votes of social conservatives, which allowed McCain to shoot the gap, win the primary and go on to win the nomination.

Of course, assuming Huckabee is the early favorite in a Sanford-less South Carolina primary is a mistake given the fungibility of the field. Should Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin decide to run, her hero status among social conservatives would make her a serious contender in the Palmetto State. Without a southern governor in the field currently, Gov. Haley Barbour (R-Miss.) could run and make the case that he is best positioned to represent South Carolina's needs as the nominee. And, of course, Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R-Minn.) would also feel compelled to play in South Carolina in order to show he could win outside of his upper Midwest base.

"We have an unblemished record of picking winners on the Republican side, something the other early states have no record of," said Walter Whetsell, the president of South Carolina-based Starboard Communications. "Every serious GOP contender understands that and would never devise a campaign strategy absent winning in South Carolina."

The true winners from Sanford's unexpected departure from the contest are not, in fact, any of the candidates mulling the race but rather the Republican political consultants who are as common in South Carolina as sweet tea and good barbecue. (Fix favorite in Columbia: The Palmetto Pig)

No state -- particularly one with an early presidential primary -- is so dominated by political consultants (Quinn, Whetsell, Warren Tompkins, Terry Sullivan, Jim Dyke, Adam Temple, Rod Shealy....the list goes on) who make a killing every four years on the cavalcade of candidates coming into the Palmetto State looking to use it as a springboard for their presidential aspirations.

With Sanford out, that "gravy train" (in the words of Ed Matricardi, yet another Republican consultant based in South Carolina) will almost certainly continue in 2012.

Expect any candidate with an eye on being the Republican presidential nominee to begin to cultivate South Carolina -- staff, visits, showering Palmetto State candidates with money -- over the next two years. And, they all have Sanford to thank.

By Chris Cillizza  |  July 15, 2009; 11:44 AM ET
Categories:  Eye on 2012  
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"the state, which has voted for the man who has gone on to win the presidential nomination in every primary,"

I assume this means every Republican primary. John Edwards won the SC primary in 2004.

Posted by: JonSM99 | July 16, 2009 12:34 AM | Report abuse

"the intelligencia of the GOP"[guffaw] Posted by: nodebris

Sarah Palin, the intelligentsia...

Possible, really possible.

Their last President, after all, got into more trouble while reading My Pet Goat.

At least Sarah has great familiarity with those literary classics, Energy Company Ads.

What WOULD fifties Mad Magazine have done with her?

Posted by: ceflynline | July 15, 2009 9:12 PM | Report abuse

You can rely on SC to pick the dumbest or the craziest.

Posted by: edismae | July 15, 2009 8:25 PM | Report abuse

Hasn't he already taking vacation time to get closer with a "loved one", on state time and state money? Would you still have a job if you missed an important economic meeting for the organization you were running? Especially after recent revelations. Truly shameful. There is absolutely no accountability in govt. or for white collar people in this country. South Carolina gets what it deserves if it doesn't kick his arse out.

Posted by: sondysue819 | July 15, 2009 4:59 PM | Report abuse

Has beens, adulterers, quitters, whiners, extremists


.. and snoozelords.

As Gail Collins put it a few months ago, when Romney is on TV people start reaching for the remote. Pawlenty? Jindal? Please.

Posted by: chrisfox8 | July 15, 2009 4:37 PM | Report abuse

There are no viable candidates that I have seen thus far.

Has beens, adulterers, quitters, whiners, extremists, and all of them living in the past -- dreaming of the days when WASPs were in control.....

Posted by: abby0802 | July 15, 2009 4:32 PM | Report abuse

@reason5: Romney's Mormonism is the least of his problems. The GOP is riding high on a wave of anti-intellectualism and distrust of the educated. Romney is actually quite liberal socially, but worse that that (for SC) he's an educated fat-cat banker. As Frank Rich put it, Palin will squash him like a bug.

None of these people can win nationally, nor should they.

Posted by: chrisfox8 | July 15, 2009 3:53 PM | Report abuse

A number of nominees could do well in South Carolina. I don't think Huckabee will run again in 2012. Romney likely will. I think Romney, Crist, Palin & Pawlenty will all be definate players in South Carolina. Barbour will if he runs. I can't see Romney, as a Mormon, doing well in south Carolina. Bottom line, even with DeMint's support there he got 15% of the vote. Palin & Pawlenty will very likely do well in SC.

Posted by: reason5 | July 15, 2009 3:43 PM | Report abuse


I'm also a big fan of big fan of Palmetto Pig, but have you tried Little Pigs Barbecue? In addition to the 'pig', they have collard greens and fried okra sides which are to die for!

It's the only thing which could make the the gladhanding leading up to the Primary bearable, esp. as it's close to a foregone conclusion--unless Obama pulls off a major cock-up between now and then--that the R.'s will lose in 2012. I know this will bring the wrath of many down on my head, but there's always that barbecue to sustain me!

Posted by: sverigegrabb | July 15, 2009 2:53 PM | Report abuse

I really do believe that the disarray of the GOP will peak in 2012. Romney is their best chance and he won't win for a number of reasons, but if Palin decides to throw in she'll overpower his lackluster message with the clouds of stupefying black smoke that surround her. She has the intense support of far too few people to win.

Same story .. the GOP needs to win the center and they are showing zero interest in appealing to the center. Anyone like Graham who sounds even momentarily reasonable is blasted by Limbaugh and recants the next day, returning to the crazy-fold. And having broken the GOP, Palin now owns it (Frank Rich, thanks), and she'll make certain that reasonable people are purged.

As someone said a few weeks ago, the next GOP president might not even be born yet.

Posted by: chrisfox8 | July 15, 2009 2:19 PM | Report abuse

It will be the hayseed-pitchfork parade, chrisfox.

Posted by: drindl | July 15, 2009 1:57 PM | Report abuse

My Dad was Eugene McCarthy's doctor and that was a really traumatic situation. It was horrible, bloodier than people know.

Posted by: shrink2 | July 15, 2009 1:49 PM | Report abuse

Looking forward to a GOP meltdown in 2012 comparable to the Chicago Democratic convention of 1968. Except instead of hippies showing armpits and beards it'll be Trailer Nation screaming that Sarah Palin is qualified.

Oh bring it own.

Posted by: chrisfox8 | July 15, 2009 1:44 PM | Report abuse

Mark, you are scaring me.
KBH not a shoo in? Really?

Donaldt, my bet is that he got the PsychTx he needed and that is why she took him back.
If the crazy talk and behavior continues, I will be proven wrong and you right. But I bet you will see nothing but sober sanity from Sanford from now on.

Posted by: shrink2 | July 15, 2009 1:24 PM | Report abuse

what an embarrassing array of clowns.

Posted by: drindl | July 15, 2009 1:02 PM | Report abuse

"the intelligencia of the GOP"


Posted by: nodebris | July 15, 2009 12:56 PM | Report abuse

CC, why the omission of Jim DeMint? Did he not say this to you just last week,

"I am not going to spend another ten years of my life waiting for some slot on some committee," said DeMint. "I don't think the country has that long."

That sounds to me like he is thinking of filling the void left by Sanford. I think Demint is a moron, but he has the conservative street cred to really make a push for the GOP nomination, especially since he is young, telegenic, and a heck of alot more personable than Yawnlenty.

Posted by: AndyR3 | July 15, 2009 12:47 PM | Report abuse

There is no way that Perry ever gets anywhere on the national stage. His little secession comment assured that in my mind.

I think the biggest winner for 2012 in SC is Palin. Her little op-ed piece in the WaPost was to try and introduce her to the intelligencia of the GOP and to show that she isn't as stupid as we all know she is. The problem is that it was a rambling bunch of nonsense which won't convince the country club conservatives that she is their girl. It will however give her supporters a resource to show that she does have a grasp of national issues. I would expect to see more of these types of things from Mrs. Palin in the near future.

Jake, Colbert would be ten times better than almost everyone on the list that the GOP has right now.

Posted by: AndyR3 | July 15, 2009 12:42 PM | Report abuse

Is the South Carolina open or closed? If open, how does the lack of a Dem primary impact the GOP race, which will be the only game in town, so to speak?

Posted by: bsimon1 | July 15, 2009 12:39 PM | Report abuse

she took him back. these woman want the power as much as the man.she will always be his second choice.or maybe third or fourth.

Posted by: donaldtucker | July 15, 2009 12:30 PM | Report abuse

"Without him in the 2012 field, however, the state, which has voted for the man who has gone on to win the presidential nomination in every primary, becomes the purest of toss ups with no obvious favorite in the prospective field."

Assuming there should be a "republican" qualifier in there, it is still a meaningless attribute.

The Republicans have their process pretty well rigged for the chosen conservative candidate, as long as there IS a chosen conservative candidate, so that the primary process in the Republican Party is a partly scripted drama, (or farce, like last year) where most of the lines are ad-lib but the basic plot and the denouement are all well blocked out. That isn't going to change by 2012, so South Carolina will certainly go with the CHOSEN candidate.

Even should SC guess wrong, it won't mean anything. This isn't some state with an amazing predeliction for finding winners, just a state with a very unimaginative conservative core. Sanford could still win SC. It would just mean that for once SC was wrong.

But no matter WHO the Republicans pick as their standard bearer, as long as he is there to accept the nomination, Barack will be the Democratic candidate, and only a NON Republican moderate or centrist would stand a chance to beat him.

THAT scenario requires that the American Reform Party or its analog get organized and moving by 2010. Possible, but it won't happen.

Posted by: ceflynline | July 15, 2009 12:28 PM | Report abuse


Slow or not, it poses the nightmare scenario for me.

1] KBH, by not quitting the Senate, has given Goodhair breathing room here in TX.

2] KBH is still so enmeshed in Senatorial politix that she seems unable to address the issues that polarize the state about Goodhair.

3] Ronnie Earle may run against Tom Schieffer on the D side, splitting the Ds and keeping them and many Is voting in the D Primary.

4] In a pure R Primary, Goodhair can beat KBH.

5] Goodhair can beat Schieffer on voter apathy. He can beat Earle as "too liberal".

6] Goodhair, the idiot, has national ambitions. He is the perfect candidate for SC.


Posted by: mark_in_austin | July 15, 2009 12:18 PM | Report abuse

I nominate Stephen Colbert.

Posted by: JakeD | July 15, 2009 12:16 PM | Report abuse

A really slow news day.

Posted by: shrink2 | July 15, 2009 11:52 AM | Report abuse

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