A record turnout is predicted for the South Carolina primary. In 2008, a record 605,623 GOP voters turned out. S.C. GOP Chairman Matt Moore is predicting at least 650,000 tomorrow.
Donald Trump is holding steady at between 28 and 36 points in the opinion polls, averaging about 33 percent according to RealClearPolitics.
By the numbers, Trump should receive about 214,500 votes. I pegged the magic number at 210,000. That will give Trump the 29 statewide delegates and the lion’s share of county pledged delegates along with a huge lead going into Nevada, where he’s expected to capture most of the 30 there.
Headed into the March 1 “Super Tuesday” or “SEC Primary” that would give Trump somewhere between 80 and 85 delegates–far ahead of the nearest rival (likely Cruz or Rubio, with maybe 20). But it’s not the delegate count that matters. Newt Gingrich soundly beat Mitt Romney in South Carolina in 2012 but ended up petering out quickly.
What matters is the turnout trend and whether Trump sets a pattern of over performing his polls. Iowa is a special case because it’s a caucus, which limits participation. Even though they had a record turnout in Iowa, Trump had two things working against him: Cruz’s ground game and evangelical support, plus the time-and-place requirements of a caucus. In New Hampshire, both of these disadvantages were removed and Trump conquered.
In South Carolina, the primary puts Trump to the test, along with his rivals. If evangelicals turn out in force against Trump and he underperforms, getting less than 210,000 votes, he’s stoppable–very stoppable–come March 1. It opens up the door for Cruz (or even Rubio?) to win some key states like Georgia and Texas, blunting Trump’s delegate lead.
But if Trump gets more than the 210,000 magic number by a large margin (say 220 or 230 thousand or more), the trend will be established, and it will be difficult for any turnout operation to match his ability to pull in new voters–at least the statistical models will be in virgin territory for record turnout. It will make the job of stopping Trump much more difficult.
If Trump bests the highest vote total ever for a candidate in S.C., George W. Bush in 2000 at over 254,000 votes, he’ll likely be unstoppable on March 1, and enjoy an almost insurmountable lead to the nomination. Even Cruz’s carefully planned delegate chess and conventioneering (I made up the word) skills probably would not be able to stop the Trump express with that kind of mass times acceleration (velocity).
Watch the returns carefully, and don’t believe the predictions of “mission accomplished” or doom Saturday night. The numbers speak for themselves.
As for me, I believe Trump will win but underperform–simply because that’s what I want to happen. If it’s Rubio who stops him, so be it. If it’s Cruz, even better. But if we end up with the “52 pickup” we had after New Hampshire, with Trump on top and everyone else in a tangled mess, even with Bush likely out, it’s going to be a difficult road lining up a truly conservative candidate to beat Trump.