SC GOP primary filled with uncertainty

By Jim Davenport

Associated Press

Published: Friday, March 11 2011 12:00 a.m. MST

Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour's Southern drawl may have made Republicans here feel like kin during his three visits. And, here in Dixie, voters may look past his bungled civil rights comments. But will they bristle at his record of Washington lobbying?

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee is a hero to Christian conservatives here, and always gets a warm welcome. But he doesn't seem eager to run.

And what of Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels? Or former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin? Or ex-Gov. Jon Huntsman of Utah?

Without a set field, South Carolina Republicans aren't in a rush to support or raise funds for anyone.

Consider that by March 2007, half of the state's House GOP caucus already had endorsed Arizona Sen. John McCain, the eventual nominee, and DeMint was backing Romney. McCain had 20 people on his South Carolina payroll. Romney had a dozen and Huckabee had five.

Not this year.

Also unclear: Who will Haley endorse? She backed Romney last time when she was in the state legislature and her nod as governor would be a big prize.

Tea party favorite DeMint also looms large over the field — even though he says he has no plans to run. Matt Hoskins, who runs DeMint's Senate Conservatives Fund, said flatly: "He's not running."

Still, speculation is rampant.

"If Jim's here, you're not going to win — nor should you win," Santorum said.

The DeMint talk may be why the state's biggest donors and influential endorsers seem wary of committing to candidates.

"It's difficult for the presidential candidates to come into the state and lock down folks who take an attitude that 'We're going to wait for DeMint to get in the race,'" said Chip Felkel, a Greenville consultant helping Barbour.

Perhaps the only thing that's certain is that the quiet days will end eventually

As Larry Bateman, a tea party activist, put it: "Candidates are going to be coming here and they'll be stumbling all over the patriots and the tea party."

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