A mysterious Santa Rita SuperPAC is dropping somewhere between $310-400K on low-tech SC ads for Ron Paul on a few topics, including the fact that Paul has ten times more donations from military personnel than Romney and 70% of the overall donations. This is consistent with the 2008 cycle, when military personnel gave the most to Paul with the then anti-war Obama second in military donations.
Since servicemen and women have been chronically overdeployed since 2003, many soldiers deployed long after what they were promised, with an enormously disruptive effect on their physical, social, and emotional lives, it will be interesting to see how this issue plays out in a military state like SC. As with other states, it promises to give Paul the most potential support amongst younger voters, while older non-combatants who benefit economically from military spending are more likely to support the status quo. Paul's own ads have not taken the offensive on this, but rather taken a pro-soldier tone emphasizing his service, not mentioning his issue positions or that he is the only major candidate to have served. I assume Paul's positions are well known, though.
Another source of free media is the soldier named Jesse Thorsen who was on CNN in his fatigues talking up Paul, who was cut off due to reported technical difficulties when he started talking about Iran, which has led some to speculate that there weren't any technical difficulties, and CNN has not rebroadcasted the full interview. The military has threatened to court marshal him for participating in a campaign in uniform, though Al Gore and Richard Nixon have made pro-war appearances in uniform which weren't met with similar threats.
BASH: We have here Corporal Jesse Thorsen, who is 28 years old, and you are active duty US Army. Why did you vote for Ron Paul?
THORSEN: I’m really excited about a lot of his ideas, especially when it comes to bringing the soldiers home. I’ve been serving for ten years now, and all ten years of those have been during wartime. I would like to see a little peace time army, and I think he has the right idea.
BASH: You’ve done two tours and you’re going to go back for a third tour. You can see — your neck right there, a tattoo, 9/11, remember, and a picture of the twin towers. Some Republicans have been saying that Ron Paul would be very dangerous for this country, because he wants to bring troops like you back from your post from all over the world.
THORSEN: Well, I think it would be even more dangerous to start nitpicking wars with other countries. Someone like Iran, Israel is more than capable of –
The other day Gingrich's SuperPAC ran out a well-produced 28 minute documentary on Romney's time at Bain Capital with strong North-South symbolism, but has since said that even though it's not his work he'll see about having the inaccuracies taken out of it. He is gaining while Santorum is dipping, and these attacks have had their effect on Romney. In the 8 months between now and the general election, Romney's work at Bain will be exhaustively discussed. Paul has risen in the polls but Romney continues to lead his GOP challengers head to head in SC.
Update 1/20 12:15 am: Just read the debate transcript.. the pundits said Gingrich won but like many debates it's hard to tell what people saw. Gingrich received most of the attacks, including from Santorum, whose truce with Gingrich is over; Santorum and Paul didn't receive any, and some Gingrich voters will move to Santorum as a result, though others will move from Santorum to Gingrich just to beat Romney, not because of the debate. Everyone but Santorum had their conservativism challenged. Romney certainly didn't win. Gingrich and Romney both faced high profile character issues which will probably have the biggest impact of the evening for different voters.
Update 1/20: I am fully aware that doing a beat column on the Republican presidential primaries is dehumanizing.
Update 1/21 11:40pm: Paul won voters 29 and under in South Carolina, 31% to Gingrich's 28%. A CNN poll had Romney running best against Obama, followed by Paul within a few points and Gingrich et al way down. So it makes sense that among the 45% that said they most wanted a candidate that could beat Obama, 51% voted for Gingrich.
Those who wanted "a strong moral character" went only 6% for Gingrich. 64% said abortion should be illegal, 24% said "illegal in all cases." Romney took only 14% of the "all cases." 65% of voters said they were evangelical, and voted for Gingrich over Romney 2 to 1. Only 21% had served in the military, and they didn't vote differently.
Gingrich ran especially well with lower income voters, with the richest 5% supporting Romney 47% to 37%. Only 28% said they had a negative view of Romney's investment background, but he of course carried only 3% of those who did and only led the rest by 4 points. The North-South symbolism regarding Bain seems to have worked and indicates that Romney has a new problem in the primaries throughout most of the country. On Wednesday, Gingrich's price on Intrade was at 2, now it's at 23, with 25.5% chance of winning the nomination. He has a real chance now because the South, Bible Belt, and Great Plains are SC Lite. It's going to be long, bloody, and Romney won't find his true self that connects with voters in three weeks. Ron Paul will have ample opportunity to plead his case about Peace, Love, cutting senior citizens off from medical care and Taft-Hartley strikebreaking..