Politico.com called it a "knife-fight." The New York Times merely called it a "street fight," which I suppose means "knives optional." Either way, they’ve got it right: The South Carolina Republican primary is about John McCain and Mike Huckabee.
With Mitt Romney executing a disorderly retreat — he pulled his money out yesterday, and Mitt goes where his money goes — and Mr. Giuliani having been "Rudy Who?" for weeks around here, it’s all about the winners of the Iowa and New Hampshire contests in the Palmetto State. And the stakes for those two candidates are about as high as they can get.
McCain has to break the South Carolina curse — our state having the shameful distinction of having given the momentum to George W. Bush after a particularly vicious whispering campaign. He came here eight years ago after having won in New Hampshire, riding high. Now, here we go again — will this time be the charm?
Meanwhile, Huckabee has to prove that Iowa wasn’t a fluke. Sure, you could give him a free pass on his dismal showing in New Hampshire, seeing as how the conventional wisdom has it nobody goes to church up there. But he will have no excuse for a loss here.
McCain has a handicap Huckabee lacks — the stakes for the Arizonan are just about as high (again, according to conventional "wisdom") in Michigan, if only because it’s of supreme importance to Romney to beat him there. Romney loses his daddy’s state, and it’s no more Romney.
Not only does he not have to fight a two-front battle, Huckabee’s new and fresh and expected to make rookie mistakes. The handicappers have been far less forgiving to ultimate veteran McCain all year; if he strikes out anywhere, they’ll write his political obituary yet again.
Yes, yes, I know — there are some of you out there who will cry, "No, you’re forgetting Ron Paul!" Or Fred Thompson, or Duncan Hunter, or … I don’t know — who else out there is still alleging to be in this?
But while I had hoped it would be otherwise — still, if Romney or Giuliani wanted to come in for an interview as late as Friday morning, I’d try to change all our plans to accommodate them — but at this point, conventional wisdom actually seems to have it right for once. In South Carolina, and increasingly nationally, it’s about McCain and Huckabee.