Streaks are a big part of sports lore.
Joe DiMaggio hitting in 56 straight in 1941; the UCLA basketball team winning 88 in a row over three years in the 1970s; Oklahoma football winning 47 consecutive games in the mid-1950s.
Politics, compared quite often to sports in many respects, has streaks of its own.
And the one that all South Carolinians know about, irrespective of which candidate they are backing, is the Palmetto State’s streak of selecting every Republican nominee since 1980. Reagan, Bush, Dole, Bush and McCain all won here en route to the nomination.
This election season, the only refrain heard from presidential candidates more than the has been the recognition of South Carolina’s long-standing importance in the primary process.
That importance is tied directly to the streak. And just about everyone agrees that the streak is in jeopardy this time around.
Part of the reason the streak could come to an end is the fluidity of the race, thus far. Candidates have risen and fallen within the space of weeks. A fact Sen. Lindsey Graham reiterated while.
“I’ve never seen so much uncertainty this late in the race,” Graham said.
But another reason that the streak could be broken is one that some GOP veterans are reluctant to talk about publicly. And that is that former Massachusetts Gov. .
A scenario exists that Romney could finish in the top two or three in Iowa and then score a convincing victory in New Hampshire, where he is polling at 20 points above the nearest competitor.
He would then come to South Carolina looking to seal the proverbial deal only to be knocked off by , or .
The race would conceivably then be thrown into chaos, but Romney would still be in a good enough position to win in Florida and Nevada and secure the nomination. In short, the only candidate that .
Admitting Romney is the frontrunner is also an admission that neither Cain nor Gingrich nor Perry -- all of whom are perceived as flawed candidates -- are electable at the national level, which would, for the first time since 1976, raise the specter that South Carolina is outside the mainstream of the Republican Party.
“The streak is critical to South Carolina’s presence as a player on the national stage,” said Kyle Kondik of the University of Virginia Center for Politics.
This election South Carolina saw its status as the “first in the South” . Were it to lose the perception that it’s a kingmaker, it’s likely that Florida (or some other state) would step up its attempt to move past South Carolina on the primary calendar.
Spending by candidates in this cycle is already . Getting bumped down the schedule would almost certainly have a negative impact to the state’s economy.
Danielle Vinson, political science chair at Furman University, thinks it’s possible the popularity of the Tea Party in South Carolina could hurt the state’s influence nationally.
“The Tea Party has shown they don’t really like being told what to do,” Vinson said. “And that isn’t really conducive to continuing a streak.”
Spartanburg County Tea Party leader Karen Martin is indeed none too concerned about the streak.
“We’re sick to our stomachs that we went along, with the 'next in line' tradition and it is part of our fight in the same way dumping Obama is part of our fight,” Martin said.
But she allows that she is “still not sure where the path to the nomination lies, since this is the most in flux primary cycle ever.”
While it might be easier to take if the streak was broken as a result of the volatile electorate or weak candidates, political consultant Taft Matney thinks the streak's end could be an act of self-destruction.
“The culture of uncertainty surrounding the participation of primary created the perception that there is disarray,” Matney said. “If those counties don’t participate, the results will likely be skewed and not accurately reflect those of South Carolina’s Republican voters.”
South Carolina will likely again find itself in a position to rubber-stamp the frontrunner.
Whether or not it chooses to exercise that option will be an indicator of how much damage it is willing to do to itself, either as a result of the Tea Party’s influence or because of legal action threatening the funding of the primary.
And it will also let the state now how it is positioned nationally.
Not that that will necessarily matter to voters on Jan. 21.