Early observations:

André Bauer — Before even walking on the stage, there was no way Bauer could win the night. John O’Connor from The State said Bauer was “doubling down” on his stance on public assistance. I’d say he was betting the bank on it. Bauer argued that he wasn’t going to be politically correct, and that’s going to appeal to a portion of the party. That said, they don’t call it “correct” for nothing.

And, in a week when everyone from the president, to Bauer’s GOP opponents, to the Starbucks barista were talking about jobs, gov lite continued to put the focus on lazy welfare moms. That’s not what people are worried about, particularly in a down economy.

Nikki Haley —I’m not going to say she was a debate loser. At this point in the campaign — for a candidate largely unknown outside of her district — any attention is good attention. And Haley certainly left tonight with fresh supporters. But it was crystal clear that Haley is a Sanford candidate. Again, there is a part of the Republican party that will appeal to.

But these folks see Sanford and his stimulus stalling as a signature moment. It was a dangerous mistake and many Republicans will tell you so publicly and privately. The City of Charleston is on the cusp of receiving nearly $150 million in stimulus money to address nearly half of the flooding problem downtown (money it would take decades to come up with alone). Haley said in the strongest terms possible that, had it been up to her, she would have refused the money. There are some people dreaming of another four years of blind principles, but not enough to win a primary.

Henry McMaster vs. Gresham Barrett — There are a lot of similarities between these two on the stump. Barrett said he was a consensus builder. McMaster spoke on the value of a big party. Each one is trying to speak to every corner of the GOP. But, more importantly, they’re speaking to the number one issue for most South Carolinians: jobs. Each offers a detailed jobs plan they’re not only familiar with, they’re excited about.

McMaster certainly offers the appeal of an elder statesman, similar to Fritz Holling’s charm. Of course, the problem is that Hollings was a much younger man when he became governor of South Carolina. It should also be noted that Carroll Campbell, David Beasley, Jim Hodges, and Mark Sanford were also much younger than McMaster when they were elected. Standing with the three other candidates, the age gap is dramatic and there is also an energy gap that worked to Barrett’s advantage.

The congressman shares Haley’s statewide obscurity, but he’s got enough campaign cash to properly introduce himself and he’s focused on a priority people can relate to. Lets take a quick quiz. Think of the last time you were talking to a friend about welfare queens or reforming the state’s tax code. Now think about the last time you talked about job security.

Barrett is right at home discussing his vision for growing business in South Carolina, including Charleston and its port. And it appears he’s got the energy to get GOP voters excited about it, too.

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