I only live about 10 miles from the SC border and about 50 miles from Greenville, SC. Greenville is more conservative, more white, more religious, and more Republican than most of the rest of SC.
Ron Paul has a lot of support, but I predict about half of them will vote for somebody else because they don't think he can win and want to make sure another candidate does not win—usually McCain, sometimes Huckabee. One person told me his wife—a conservative/religious activist who favors Paul—was planning on voting for Romney to try and prevent McCain or Huckabee from winning.
Paul's foreign policy positions-or at least his perceived foreign policy positions—hurt him badly. He needs to distinguish his position from the standard Democrat position. This is a region that respects military personnel, veterans, etc. (except for the city of Asheville).
Also Paul often addresses what seem to many people to be esoteric economic issues, when what they want to hear first and more directly is 1. What is he going to do about immigration 2. Jobs, 3. specifically how he plans to exit Iraq, etc. He needs to put propositions first and explanations second.
Although many of the political activist sorts including conservative Catholics and Evangelical Protestants are on to Huckabee (wary of his record), most Protestant Evangelicals are not on to Huck's record and favor him so far.
A sizeable number of them feel that because he is a born-again Christian, he will automatically do the right thing.
Several weeks ago at a Republican County Executive meeting in Hendersonville an older fellow was called on to give the prayer before beginning (probably not a practice in northeastern states). I almost fell out of my chair and did drop my clip-board when he prayed something like this.: "Lord please bless our President because he is a born-again Christian, and we know he will do the right thing." It would not be unusual to pray for the President at a Republican meeting in the South—although Bush is seldom mentioned at any Republican meeting now—but the prayer expressed a certain common belief that anyone who is (or claims to be) a born-again Christian will automatically "do the right thing."
This was particularly shocking to me because Bush expresses universalist beliefs in many interviews. Universalism is definitely not orthodox Christianity—it is at best heresy. Anyway, this sort of thing works to Huckabee's advantage. Thompson can call him a liberal all day long with a long list of documentation, but it will go right over their heads and Huckabee's halo will not be tilted a bit. By no means every evangelical in the South makes such a presumption, but it is common enough to give Huckabee a strong advantage.
There are more road and street signs for Paul than other candidates. Paul's supporters also tend to be Christians, but of a more biblically and politically informed variety.
Several Paul supporters thought Huckabee will win. I did not see a single Thompson sign—probably not in his campaign budget. Thompson also faces the "can't win" hurdle because of his slow start. However, Thompson should do reasonably well. With more money and effort he could win.
Some big name Republicans are going for McCain—reportedly the Governor and Speaker of the House.
Many people only know McCain is a war hero. They look at you in disbelief, if you tell them his record. They cannot believe that he could be pro-amnesty or lying to them.
Not a single person I saw in the largest mall was wearing any hint of partisanship. Few cars have any political bumper stickers. In fact, I don't recall seeing any political bumper stickers. Perhaps they are content to let Fox News name the winner.
But I think there are also more people here and in Greenville who are very frustrated with the Republican field in general.
In South Carolina, McCain's horrible immigration record and his constant dissembling on it is his Achilles heel - if voters find out about it.