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South Carolina Gives Santorum a Little Encouragement; But Not Pawlenty

The first GOP debate is over but South Carolina, which hosted the dismal proceeding that FOX News broadcast on Thursday, is still getting a lot of attention from Republican presidential candidates as well as those thinking about getting into the race.

In addition to co-sponsoring the debate between five of the hopefuls, the South Carolina Republican Party held the first straw poll vote of the season. In what must be considered a bit of a surprise, the winner of the ballot was Rick Santorum. The former senator from Pennsylvania seems to have gotten some sort of boost from the debate. Some of the pundits who analyzed the debate gave Santorum good reviews and a plurality of those attending the state’s GOP dinner seem to agree. According to Politico, Santorum got 150 votes out of the 408 cast with the absent Mitt Romney a distant second with 61 and businessman Herman Cain, the darling of pollster Frank Luntz’s FOX News focus group, third at 44. The top five was rounded out with the fading Donald Trump getting 29 votes and Congresswoman Michele Bachmann (who is praying for assistance to form a campaign staff) and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (who swears he won’t run) tied at 22.

Straw polls aren’t just unscientific; any well-organized campaign can stage-manage such an event to get a boost if they think it is worth the effort. But while winning one says nothing about a candidate’s actual popularity with the voters, it does say something about their ability to organize and bus in supporters. Thus Santorum’s win in the poll means that either his hard right social issues pitch is genuinely popular with the party faithful in South Carolina or that his campaign is better organized than many of us may have thought. Given the slender resources that are at his disposal, the answer is probably the former. All this doesn’t mean that Santorum is about to become a serious contender for the nomination but the fallout from the debate is likely to encourage the former senator and his supporters and perhaps even help them raise enough money to continue the long slog toward the actual voting which is still many months away.

The other noteworthy aspect of the South Carolina straw poll is the poor showing of Tim Pawlenty. The former Minnesota governor was the only major candidate to show in South Carolina, but those who voted in the straw poll showed no gratitude for this gesture and seem to have given him even less respect than the the pundits who gave him middling reviews about his performance. Pawlenty got only seven votes in the straw poll. That means that either Carolinians really didn’t care for his debating style or that his campaign thought the straw poll wasn’t worth the bother. Or both.



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