ThinkProgress filed this report from the Silver Elephant Banquet in Columbia, SC.
On Saturday, South Carolina Republicans elected a new chairman, Chad Connelly, who will play a hugely influential role in the state’s first-in-the-South presidential primary. Because only Republicans will be holding a contested presidential primary next year, Connelly and the state GOP will be tasked with holding and funding the vote in early 2012.
ThinkProgress spoke with Connelly this past weekend to get his thoughts about the presidential field and what role the Ryan budget, which ends Medicare and extends tax breaks for the wealthy, will play in the primary. Thus far, the leading Republican presidential contenders — including former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich — have kept the Ryan budget at arm’s length, praising Ryan for his “courage” and “leadership” but purposefully stopping short of endorsing the plan.
According to Connelly, this non-committal approach would not stand in the Palmetto State. When asked whether a candidate would be able to win the South Carolina primary if he or she doesn’t endorse the Ryan budget, Connelly argued “I don’t think so”:
KEYES: Obviously the primary here in South Carolina is going to be a big issue and no one knows the ground game better than yourself. Do you think a candidate is going to be able to win the South Carolina primary if they do not endorse the Ryan budget?
CONNELLY: I don’t think so. That’s really getting some appeal among the conservatives, you’re going to see all of them talk to that I believe.
Connelly’s words carry significant weight. He will play a decisive role in the South Carolina primary next year, arguably the most important state for Republican presidential hopefuls. In the modern era, no candidate has ever lost the South Carolina primary and gone on to win the Republican nomination.
A few presidential aspirants have embraced the Ryan plan, including Rep. Michele Bachmann, former Sen. Rick Santorum, and former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain. With Connelly’s get-off-the-fence declaration, how long will the rest of the field be able to avoid taking a position on the Ryan budget?