S.C. Republican Party Chairman Chad Connelly said it’s time to alter the party’s slogan, “We Pick Presidents” after the state’s Republican voters defied a 32-year tradition in January’s primary, choosing Newt Gingrich over now-presumptive nominee Mitt Romney.
“It’s a little asterisk in real small writing that says, ‘Most of the time,’” teased Connelly during Saturday’s S.C. Republican convention in Columbia.
(Since 1980, S.C. Republican primary voters have chosen the candidate who went on to be the eventual presidential nominee.)
Connelly’s line garnered a chuckle from the crowd of nearly 1,000 Republicans, several of whom acknowledge Romney wasn’t their first choice, but say they’ll back the former Massachusetts governor in the November election.
“We have to. It’s the only choice we have,” said Harry Stille, a former state House member from Abbeville County who attended Saturday’s convention. “If we don’t, the country goes down the tubes.”
Leading up to the January primary, many of the state’s Republicans described Romney as “too establishment” and untrustworthy because of his changing positions on issues ranging from healthcare reform to abortion.
But they now say he’s their only chance to defeat President Barack Obama whose federal healthcare reform has Palmetto State Republicans angry.
“In South Carolina, it can be just as motivating to vote against somebody as to vote for somebody,” said Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Berkeley, who predicts conservative and independent voters will flock to the polls to make Obama a one-term president.
Republicans plan to help Romney in neighboring North Carolina too. The party has pledged at least 1,000 S.C. volunteers to help Romney carry North Carolina -- a battleground state Obama carried in 2008 and home of this year’s Democratic National Convention.
Also, the party is on track to keep its first-in-the-South status in the 2016 presidential primary cycle, Connelly said. But it is still awaiting word on whether the number of delegates to this year’s Republican National Convention in Tampa will be cut in half.
South Carolina chose to break a national rule, moving its primary date up to January 21 in reaction to Florida moving its primary to Jan. 31, threatening South Carolina’s prized first-in-the-South status.
National officials have warned that South Carolina and other states that bucked the rule would be penalized with the loss of half their delegates.
Saturday, convention goers elected a full slate of delegates and alternates in hopes they will all be allowed to represent the state in the national convention in August. A decision by national officials is not expected until shortly before the convention.
Also, Cindy Costa of Charleston County and Glenn McCall of York County were re-elected as national committee woman and committee man at Saturday’s convention.
“We should not be punished,” said Adam Piper, a delegate candidate who hopes the full slate of delegates will be allowed at the convention. “The activists of this party should not be penalized because other states broke the rules, forcing us to protect our long held tradition of being first-in-the-South.”