COLUMBIA -- S.C. Republicans have given the least money to presidential candidates -- a scant $105,000 -- of any of the five early primary states, according to the Federal Election Commission.
One of the state's largest Republican fundraising machines is on orders to "keep the powder dry" until Labor Day, when U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint, a Republican from Greenville, holds his Palmetto Freedom Forum, designed to solicit "more thoughtful answers" from the candidates.
"You look at (DeMint's) total contribution base in the state, it's pretty big," said Barry Wynn, DeMint's campaign treasurer. "You take all those people out and say, 'Keep the powder dry until Labor Day,' that's a lot of people on the sidelines. That's a pretty big force. If they decide to all move together in one direction, it could make a big difference."
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Republican presidential hopefuls still are trying to woo the S.C. base of DeMint, an archconservative and tea party favorite.
Republican candidates typically spend a lot of time and money in South Carolina because GOP voters correctly have chosen their party's eventual nominee in every primary since 1980. The S.C. Republican primary -- touted by the party as the "First in the South" -- usually builds to a political frenzy.
The struggling economy and the lack of endorsements from some of the state's leading Republicans -- including DeMint and Gov. Nikki Haley -- both have contributed to a slower primary season this year, said Republican Neal Thigpen, a political science professor at Francis Marion University.
"So far, I haven't seen where your Republican establishment in South Carolina -- your more moderate conservatives and business people, and longtime party leaders and whatever -- will go," Thigpen said. "They haven't begun to line up behind anybody."