The Primary is just two days away. Tonight is the final debate, this one hosted by CNN, and then tomorrow, the last push for votes before South Carolina goes to the polls.
Our introduction to South Carolina starts with a ride down 77 heading for the Palmetto State's capital of Columbia. To escape the barrage of campaign ads on the radio, we're relying on an iphone for music. After landing in Charlotte and picking up a generously large SUV we dropped into a small restaurant in Rock Hill, SC about 13 miles from the North Carolina line. Sonny's Dutch Mill claims the best burgers in town (try the Big Ben with cheese, I held the chili, but they had us try it anyway), and here, like many dinners statewide, people were talking about the impending primary.
Most people we talked to seem unenthused about the field, except for a table of Ron Paul supporters who showed the vigor common with Team Paul. No one was especially surprised Gov. Rick Perry called it quits (he called it a "strategic retreat").
"I was a little bit disappointed," said Rock Hill Resident Bobbie Ligom, while waiting for her lunch order. "I think he would have made us a good president."
"I don't believe he was going to be a contender anyway," added Charlie Hall, "it doesn't matter to me, my good is still in, I'm still going to pull lever for Ron Paul."
Others hadn't heard the news at all, which maybe isn't a surprise. Perry had been a bit of a non-starter here, polling in the low to mid-single digits before he pulled the ejector handles this morning, suspending his campaign and endorsing Newt Gingrich.
"I believe Newt is a conservative visionary who can transform this country," Perry told reporters, according to Politico, adding "Newt is not perfect, but who among us is?"
Until today Newt was having a great week. The former House Speaker has been closing the gap on frontrunner Mitt Romney after a strong showing in Monday's debate. In fact, a Public Policy Polling (PPP) tracking poll has Gingrich leading Romney 34%-28%, Paul barely ahead of Santorum (15%-14%), and Perry at 5% (that support now up for grabs, but likely helps Gingrich).
Other polls, including a Politico Poll out this morning, have Romney clinging to the lead. But, word is spreading about a potentially damaging interview with the candidate's former wife, Marianne Gingrich, which is set to run on ABC tonight. The 2nd former Mrs. Gingrich is believed to have told ABC News, that Newt asked for an open marriage so he could be with his current wife as well.
We asked voters what if the claims made by his 2nd wife would make a difference when they got to the voting booth, several said they could the tipping point.
"I'm sorry, I'm just a basic southern Baptist girl, I believe in one marriage, one family," said Jana Tinker, a grandmother of three little ones, who plans to support Romney on Saturday. "Anyone who comes in and defaces one wife, marriage, the family, I'm not going to support that."
Remember South Carolina is a conservative state with a strong contingent of evangelical voters, who may not look favorably on even more indiscretions in Newt's personal life.
Support for Romney was trepid. It seems many of the people we talked have concluded he has the best shot to win the general election, even if he does not fit their viewers perfectly or completely. Others are still riding the pine on making a decision.
South Carolina is a key primary state, in part, because voters here have successfully picked the Presidential nominee in every election since 1980. Gingrich has called it a 'must win' for him to stay viable. Santorum has so far indicated his shoestring campaign will continue past South Carolina as he and Ron Paul remain locked in a close race for 3rd place. Romney, once written off here, views it as a chance to steamroll the rest of the republican field and charge into Florida where he already has a large operation and is heavily favored.
Looking ahead tomorrow, there will be several events by the candidates, and just to make election day eve (Friday) a little more interesting, Politico is reporting Stephen Colbert will be returning to his home state. His "the Rock Me Like a Herman Cain: South Cain-olina Primary Rally" will take place at 1pm at the Cistern in front of the historic Randolph Hall at the College of Charleston. Herman Cain is attending according to a Colbert press release.