While John McCain left for the upcoming Florida primary with the bragging rights for having finished first place in South Carolina, his first-place win was hardly conclusive. He only led second-placer Mike Huckabee by a modest 33-30 percent, and only carried three of the state's six congressional districts.
But indecision wasn't just McCain's fate. Each of the other leading GOP contenders left the state with very little change in their standings:
- Mike Huckabee, desperate for a post-Iowa win, watched his early first-place standing in polls in South Carolina slip away since McCain's win in New Hampshire. As with other states, he leaves here without a much-needed primary victory - one he won't likely get in the upcoming Florida primary.
- Mitt Romney, the biggest spender of all in South Carolina, bailed in the final two weeks to focus on squeezing out a close win in Michigan, followed by an obscure win in Nevada. His late decision to cut his losses here doesn't take away from the fact that he'd invested heavily here for a year, without results.
- Fred Thompson, in spite of making South Carolina his sole campaign focus, stumbled along with dwindling voter support and limited campaign cash, and received a mediocre showing in a state chock full of conservative voters who were supposed to be Thompson's base.
Where South Carolina was once a pivotal state where the fortunes of Republican presidential aspirants were once made or broken, this year, the state's GOP primary was little more than a pricey sinkhole. The South Carolina primary did little to nothing to add momentum to good candidates, or help push failing ones out of the race. Overall, the GOP race remains essentially as murky and undecided as it was two weeks ago.
Was this irrelevancy a one-time aberration, or the sign of changing trends that will forever alter the role South Carolina plays in the race for the GOP presidential nominations?
Maybe next time ... stay tuned ...