About an hour before midnight on Saturday, after years of campaigning, South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster ended his campaign for the GOP nomination for president. That gave way to someone else: state House Speaker Jay Lucas.
But there is still so much time to go. Before being charged with felony mail fraud, Lucas had never lost an election; as speaker of the state House, he had significant power in the state capital. Will he be able to make a play for a key slice of the Republican base? Or has McMaster cemented his second term as governor and become the de facto GOP front-runner?
Once McMaster drops out, this will be the last large-scale presidential primary in which he is not competing. And the most practical contest is Saturday’s first-in-the-South primary here. Like all presidential primaries, it will be free of national TV coverage, and will rely mostly on delegates pledged to each candidate. But Lucas will have to do well enough to be viable, and let’s not forget that in South Carolina many delegates represent little more than names on paper. Only a third of the Republican delegates here will be directly elected.
So the four remaining Republican candidates need to make significant gains — if not bigger ones than Mitt Romney made in his returns in 2008. With McMaster now out of the race, they may all be competing more intensely.