In three weeks, Gov. Rick Perry has made two trips to South Carolina. He’ll be there again today — a traditionally significant campaign milepost. So will most of the other Republican GOP candidates. That’s because South Carolina has picked every Republican presidential nominee since 1980. And in a field this big, everyone wants to bag the state.
Audio: Ben Philpott's story for KUT News
"I think the real focus though is the first in the South primary,” said Blease Graham, a visiting professor at the Texas A&M Bush School of Government and Public Service. “South Carolinians, I think, starting with the Reagan campaign, established the fact that if South Carolina picked the Republican nominee — then this Republican nominee had a great chance of being elected president."
But does Perry have what South Carolina Republicans want? There are several similarities between Texas and South Carolina politics, said Robert Oldendick, executive director of the Institute for Public Service and Policy Research at the University of South Carolina.
"Smaller government, lower taxes, reducing federal government intrusion into the politics of the state," Oldendick said. "So he's got the combination of personal characteristics, plus the right policy credentials that really make him a very attractive candidate."
There are a couple of possible stumbling blocks for Perry in South Carolina. While the governor's views match up with most GOP voters', his opinions on immigration are not as tough as some in the state's Tea Party might want. That could turn off some voters. But Graham doesn’t think so.
"While the immigration issue is an important one, I don't think it's going to be a controlling one,” Graham said.
Another pitfall could be more damaging to Perry’s hopes. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin has yet to say whether or not she's going to run. Oldendick said she's the one candidate who could stop Perry's momentum in the state.
"My speculation would be that Palin would suck most of the air out of that balloon,” Oldendick said.
Graham agreed that Palin is popular but isn't sure anyone could slow Perry down right now. He said Perry appears to be the right candidate to pull votes from all Republicans in the state, from the coastal libertarians to the upland Christian conservatives.