COLUMBIA, S.C. — Newt’s a battering ram who’ll wind up in splinters, but he can do plenty of damage along the way. The candidate people immediately speak of here when talk turns to the GOP primary is a man named Romney but, “I like Romney but I could change my mind.” “I like Romney but I like Santorum too.” People take a kind of chagrined pride in the state’s past reputation for crazed, malice-laden, bare-knuckle political brawling; they look away and laugh if you speak of Lee Atwater’s old charge that a Democratic candidate had a “psychotic neurosis” and received electroshock therapy “hooked up to jumper cables.”
But that was two generations ago, the old world. South Carolina’s modern now, fully wired, demographically on the move. They still open up the first meeting of the statehouse GOP caucus with unifying prayer—”My wife’s being operated on at 2 p.m. today, I’d ask you to pray that the Lord guide the surgeon’s hands,” “Bob Smith died in a car accident last weekend, please pray for his family”—but some people are looking down not only with reverence. They’re also checking their BlackBerrys.
No one knows what’s going to happen, because South Carolina takes pride in being prickly. They have a 30-year history of picking presidents, and nobody tells them who to pick.
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