Politics

South Carolina, Florida primaries up next for GOP presidential candidates

Iowa and New Hampshire are in the books, and yet six Republicans are still insisting he — and he alone — is the only Republican capable of taking on President Barack Obama in the November general elections.

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So the primary election season is winging southward, toward South Carolina and — if still more than one persist — to Florida. South Carolina is set to have a primary election a week from Saturday, Jan. 21. Florida's primary is 10 days later, on Jan. 31.

South Carolina is a state very different from New Hampshire, and their primary is different as well. Demographically, it's much more conservative than New Hampshire, and more religious as well. From a political perspective, South Carolina doesn't have a candidate with the sort of built-in appeal and advantages that Romney had in New Hampshire. It's primary is also restricted to registered Republicans — which changes the dynamics quite a bit.

Chad Connelly, South Carolina GOP chairman, said the state has secured an enviable position with this latest political nominating contest: it's on the lips of people all over the country.

"I ran for this position and my main job is to promote our state, and tell people how great it is," Connelly said. "We have a 30-year track record of nominating the correct, eventual candidate for the Republican side."

Connelly said South Carolina has a lot on its side in predicting the eventual candidate. For one, it's small, and just about anyone can criss-cross the state to meet voters. It's also a small media market, so advertising is affordable. He also said that it's the first election contest for Republicans that really represents the entire cross-section of the party, politically: from evangelical Christians, to fiscal conservatives and including military conservatives.

Connelly said his party is expecting about 450,000 people will turn out to vote in South Carolina, in part because the election is on a Saturday.

"It's a working man's primary. We want everybody to be able to vote and they're off that day. It makes it a whole lot easier for people to show up to the polling booths," Connelly said.

Connelly said he's expecting turnout will trend up in South Carolina not so much because of the current crop of Republican candidates, but because conservatives, as well as moderates and independents, are so turned off by President Barack Obama's policies.

Phil Latzman, a reporter for WLRN and The Miami Herald, said Florida is the first state where a lot of votes and delegates can be piled up. It's also the first state where coffeeshop politics won't work. The state's just to big to plan to visit every country to try and get in front of as many voters as possible.

"It is where John McCain eventually won the Republican nomination four years ago and it's where Mitt Romney probably is going to clinch the nomination," Latzman said. "This really is where, I think, the Republican nomination is going to be sewn up."

Latzman said the sense in Florida is that Romney can make a credible challenge to Obama — despite others perhaps being more in line with their particular flavor of conservative beliefs.

Ron Paul is the X factor this year, Latzman said, but he still sees Romney picking up a victory.

"This is where the Republican convention is...this summer," he said. "Mitt Romney knows this state better than he did in 2008. People know him. He's really well-prepared to win this state and I'd be very, very surprised if he did not."