NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C.—South Carolina was never going to be Ron Paul country. It's an open primary, sure, but the population of liberal Democrats and independents isn't what it is in New Hampshire.* It's not a caucus, so there'll be none of the out-organizing in opposition turf that netted Paul 21 percent in Iowa (and will net him delegates in Nevada and other caucus states).
Paul's approach to the primary has been do-no-harm. He is not organizing the state like he organized New Hampshire and Iowa; as Francesca Chambers reports, his support base has filled the gap with a massive grassroots campaign. In Charleston for Paul, for example, "donations from supporters pay for water, electricity, refreshments and campaign materials." That matches what I've seen driving around the state. New Hampshire was plastered with official Paul signs next to the grassroots overpass banners. Here, the median Paul sign is something homemade. And here, as I found at the first stop on Paul's "whistle stop" tour of airplane hangars across the state, there is such a thing as an undercrowded Paul rally.
Only 60 or 70 voters showed up to see Paul in North Charleston, a pretty easy-to-get-to population center. This was after a pretty well-attended Paul speech at the otherwise imploding Southern Republican Leadership conference, but it was nothing like the whistle-stops in the first two states. Paul gave a short version of his stump, characteristically bland about expectations—"We're optimistic, we're going to do very well!" And he had time to shake every hand before jetting off to Myrtle Beach. I chatted with Carolyn, Paul, and Tim Sallee, a mother and two grown sons who were supporting Paul for the first time.
"I supported—what's his name?—Fred Thompson last time," remembered Carolyn. (In all of the early states, I've found that people who can't remember their 2008 votes actually voted for Fred.) She was gung ho for Paul now. "Newt did well in the debate, but he had his era, and it's over." Isn't Newt younger than Paul, though? "Ron's got more verve and vigor. If I could get 'em to race, I'd bet on Ron. You wouldn't?"
I guess I would. I'd also bet on Paul taking a last-place finish, being happier if he could tie or pass Santorum, and getting the hell out of here. Every Paul press release today has been about a state that comes later on the calendar—a caucus state where delegates can be harvested en masse. The latest:
Ron Paul Campaign Announces Substantial TV Ad Buy in Nevada and Minnesota
* Correction, Jan. 20: I stupidly misidentified the South Carolina race as a closed primary earlier. Fixed, now.