Cover Story: The scramble for South Carolina

COLUMBIA, SC (WBTV) - Campaign 2012:  When South Carolina talks everybody listens. Once every four years, anyway.  The road to the White House starts down south.

South Carolina could play king-maker for the GOP.  It usually does.

The big names come to play in the GOP presidential race.  Like Rick Perry.  He's about to put his Texas cowboy boots on the ground in the Palmetto state.

They call him Governor Goodhair.

And even though he hasn't officially announced he's running yet, people are fawning over him.  Perry is about to gauge his chances in South Carolina.

What's so special about South Carolina?  The early primary state has a can't-miss record of picking the Republican presidential nominee.

Rick Perry is going to be in South Carolina this weekend.

And in a field that hasn't gotten the masses energized some think Governor Goodhair could bring some lift to the race.

Summer in South Carolina - before an election year.  Mitt Romney has the most money.  Michele Bachmann generates the most buzz.  And Herman Cain, the former Godfather's Pizza CEO, was the most impressive in the debates.

But none has caught on.  Who's going to advertise here?

"It's a chance for South Carolina to shine nationally."  State GOP executive director Matt Moore says it's a badge South Carolina wears proudly.  "We pick presidents" they like to say.

It's developed the reputation of kingmaker.

Since its founding in 1980, the winner of South Carolina's GOP presidential primary has gone on to win the GOP nomination every election cycle.

But so far of the crowded field of candidates none has been able to battle his or her way to the top.

Charles Bierbauer covered five presidential campaigns during his 20 years at CNN and is now dean of the College of Mass Communications and Information Studies at the University of South Carolina in Columbia.

"There's a general sense I think both among Republicans and politicians themselves that the field is not finished," Bierbauer said.  "It's certainly not full."

Could Rick Perry be the one South Carolina's GOP looks to?

"He's a southern governor.. very telegenic.. has a built-in base of support here. He is an ally of a lot of popular governors here.. Governor Sanford and now Haley for example," said GOP executive director Matt Moore.

At this stage the state party isn't supposed to weigh in.

But talk among party faithful and there's excitement about the Texas governor getting in.

On Labor Day, Jim DeMint, South Carolina's influential U.S. senator, is inviting all the Republicans candidates to attend a forum he's hosting in which he'll personally grill the candidates on the issues.

DeMint has become the standard bearer of the Tea Party wing of the GOP and his endorsement carries a ton of weight.

"If Perry gets in he's got the potential to appeal more broadly across the Republicans ranks than does a Bachmann," said Bierbauer.

Republicans voters in South Carolina say they don't know much about Perry or the others but they soon will get their chance to.

Gary Lundy was visiting the State House with his sons on Wednesday.

"I don't have a favorite at this point," said Lundy, "so I'm following from a distance until it gets a little closer."

Rick Perry will be speaking in Charleston on Saturday.

So while a front runner is still out there the date of the SC Primary is also up in the air.

Florida is jockeying to jump ahead to be the first-in-the-South primary.

And South Carolina has promised to trump them even if they have to move the primary up to this Christmas or even Halloween.

Right now the tentative schedule for the primary to be held on the last Tuesday in February, the 28th.

New Hampshire and Iowa will go first, then South Carolina.

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