Iowa prides itself as being the lead presidential contest in the nation. New Hampshire is even more protective of its "first in the nation" primary. Republican candidates have stumbled in either one of those states and managed to win the GOP nomination.
The same cannot be said for the Palmetto State's "first in the south" primary. Since 1980, South Carolina Republican voters are batting 1.000 when it comes to picking the winners. And with every passing election cycle that their streak continues, South Carolina's perception as being the "must win" state looms larger on the horizon.
And so with the last presidential debate held prior to the Saturday vote, the Republican White House aspirants came out swinging.
Newt Gingrich- Clearly the winner, Gingrich's strategy of living off the land until the debates arrived in earnest proved to be farsighted. With his mastery of facts and biting wit, the debates have even the former House speaker's forte and he has used them to keep his teetering campaign afloat. Newt won the debate in its opening minutes with his response to CNN reporter and debate moderator John King's query about allegations made by Gingrich's second wife about his character and desire to have an "open marriage".
Gingrich knocked the personal question out of Charleston Harbor and over the walls of Fort Sumter.
The remainder of the debate was rhetorical tennis for Gingrich, fending off pokes by former US Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania with some back and forth with ex-Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney.
The historian/amateur paleontologist is likely to win South Carolina on Saturday, temporarily containing the radioactivepersonal material at least for another week.
Rick Santorum- Give Santorum this much, he'll never be confused for Tim Pawlenty.
The recently declared winner of Iowa's straw poll/caucus aggressively went after each of the other three candidates, forcing his way into the political conversation. Santorum's biggest flaw is his lack of stage presence, in which the ardent social conservative says many agreeable things though in a forgettable manner.
Santorum is likely facing a fourth place finish on Saturday, likely ending his presidential bid. The Duggar Family can't drive their RV across Florida and Santorum can't sell enough sweater vests to bring in the money he needs to compete in multiple expensive media markets.
Mitt Romney- This week will either be the low point of his run for the Republican nomination or the beginning of the end.
Barraged by his fellow candidates, having had his Iowa victory reversed and the end of Texas governor Rick Perry's conservative splinter run have ended, if only momentarily, all of the inevitable talk and has brought Romney back to terra firm a in a state that bedeviled him four years ago.
A first place finish turns the remainder of the primary/caucus calendar into a mop up operation, second would maintain a slightly eroded lead in the Sunshine State. Third resrurects the whole "why don't they like me" discussion, a conversation Romney doesn't want to have.
Ron Paul- The lone Texan in the race as of 11:00 AM EST didn't really do himself any favors last night. Not, mind you because he said something counter-productive, but because Paul failed to seize the opportunity to stress that he is not just a one trick pony. His medical background as a doctor who has delivered thousands of babies would have been the perfect retort to Santorum's rickety foray against Paul on the issue.
Makes one wonder whether Dr. Paul has made himself too comfortable in his political bunker.