When the returns start coming in during the South Carolina primary, candidates will be doing more than looking at the total. It’s also important where their votes are coming from.
The state has historically had three regions that are important politically: the Low country, the Upstate (or Piedmont), and and the Midlands in between. The Upstate is historically more socially conservative and Baptist; the coastal region and Columbia are wealthier and include military bases. But like other parts of the South, the state continues to change due to migration and economic development. As a result, there are three areas to watch as the candidates canvass the state and as the votes start coming in.
1. Socially conservative counties
These are must-win areas for Ted Cruz and any other candidate needing the support of evangelical voters. Most of these counties are in the Upstate. They are mostly Baptist and less religiously diverse than the other parts of the state. Mike Huckabee won these counties in 2008; many also gave high support to Rick Santorum four years ago. If Cruz doesn’t do well in these counties, then he is in trouble.
2. Establishment counties
There are two parts of the state that serve as the so-called firewall against conservatives.: Columbia and Charleston. I’m not a big fan of the term “establishment Republican,” but this is the best term for these cities. Both areas want a Republican who can win in a general election and who is strong on defense. Both areas were the only ones that supported McCain in 2008 and Romney in 2012. It will be very interesting to see how Donald Trump does in these areas. If he does well here, then he will have a very good night. But expect candidates like Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, and John Kasich to be competitive.
3. Bellwether counties
Keep your eye on these counties. These are where many of the candidates are visiting in the final push to the primary. They include parts of the state that are growing economically. These include Upstate cities like Greenville, Clemson, and Rock Hill; coastal areas like Myrtle Beach;, and military areas in the Midlands. These counties are the proverbial battle-ground areas, places that could go for any candidate. Will they go more for Cruz, Trump, or one of the so-called establishment candidates. If a candidate can do well here, then he should be able to take the rest of the state.