What if Romney finishes second in South Carolina?

In politics, timing and expectations are everything. Five months ago, it would have been crazy to think Mitt Romney could win the South Carolina primary. A week ago, he looked invincible.

The fact is that a Mormon former governor from Massachusetts with a moderate demeanor is not supposed to win in South Carolina. And he may not. The question now is how badly a second-place finish will damage his campaign. There is plenty of analysis available on how we got to this point, but it is still hard to follow. With only one day before the voting starts, the race is dramatically unsettled, and tonight’s debate will not settle anything.

The Perry endorsement of Newt probably doesn’t matter, and the blunt criticism from his former wife only adds another exclamation point to what we already knew.

Romney probably doesn’t know how he really stands because the polls are shifting, Paul’s numbers are uncertain and no one knows where Santorum will find a bottom as his support slides. South Carolina may be more of a beginning to the 2012 race than an ending.

Ed Rogers is a contributor to the PostPartisan blog, a political consultant and a veteran of the White House and several national campaigns. He is the chairman of the lobbying and communications firm BGR Group, which he founded with former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour in 1991.

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