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Perhaps Party Elites Were Influential in South Carolina

- January 24, 2012

Mark Blumenthal brings an important piece of information to the debate over whether this most recent Gingrich surge means that the party leaders don’t much influence presidential nominations:

bq. Gingrich succeeded in South Carolina, however, not by creating a new paradigm, but rather by succeeding on some the very mechanisms identified as critical by The Party Decides:

bq. First, Gingrich’s stunning surge at the end of the South Carolina campaign was driven in party by two important endorsements. Rick Perry dropped out of the race and threw his support to Gingrich, and Sarah Palin, though withholding a formal endorsement, urged South Carolina Republican to “vote for Newt” in order to “keep this thing going.”

bq. Second, though Gingrich may still trail Romney in elite endorsements nationwide, he appeared to have the upper hand among local elected officials and activists in South Carolina. The Huffington Post/Patch Power Outsiders survey found that as the race came to a close, 44 percent of the influential Republican insiders interviewed in South Carolina supported Gingrich, while just 23 percent supported Romney.

It’s going to be very hard to separate out the effects of the Perry and Palin endorsements from the many other events that occurred between NH and SC.  The polling data isn’t that fine-grained.  And, as Mark has made clear on numerous occasions, the HuffPo/Patch poll of insiders isn’t a random sample.  But nevertheless: clearly the vote in South Carolina aligns with the apparent preferences of SC party leaders.

Of course, there is a rejoinder: if party elites are going to influence the nominations process, they should be coordinating better than they apparently are — what with the differences among the Iowa, NH, and SC elites in the HuffPo/Patch poll and the slow pace of endorsements generally.  On that, see also Nate Silver.  He also wonders if some endorsers of Romney are wobbly, noting some equivocation from the Wall Street Journal editorial board and Jennifer Rubin.  That’s not enough for me to be think Romney endorsers are ready to change horses en masse, but it’s something worth watching.