COLUMBIA, S.C. — If Newt Gingrich wins the South Carolina primary Saturday, it will be because, for the first time in the history of the primary and the contest for the Republican presidential nomination, there were many televised debates that resonated with likely primary voters.
That was the opinion of one of the most seasoned Republicans in South Carolina, and one who insists he is neutral in the Jan. 21 primary contest. Henry D. McMaster, who served as Republican chairman of the Palmetto State for four two-year terms (the longest tenure of any GOP chairman in the state) and is a former two-term state attorney general.
“The debates put Gingrich where he is now,” McMaster told HUMAN EVENTS, noting that where polls one week ago showed Mitt Romney with a big lead among likely Republican primary voters, the latest polls show Gingrich either tied or in the lead in the four-candidate field. In televised encounters this week — first in Myrtle Beach, S.C. and most recently in Charleston, S.C. — the former House speaker received high marks.
According to McMaster, “this is historic,” because just the heated and uncertain nature of the race is a major turnaround from what was widely considered a “slam-dunk” for Romney days ago.
McMaster, who was Ronald Reagan’s first-appointed U.S. Attorney back in 1981 and the GOP nominee for the U.S. Senate in 1986, was an early supporter of Jon Huntsman for President. Since the former Utah governor abandoned the race a week ago, McMaster has insisted he is neutral in the primary and only wants “the candidate most able to defeat Barack Obama.”