Of the three longstanding early state contests — Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina — the last of that group may actually be the best at indicating the eventual winner of the GOP nomination.

In the eight contested GOP primaries since 1980, when the state transitioned from a convention system to a primary, the winner of the election has gone on to win the nomination all but once. That aberration came in the topsy-turvy 2012 primary that saw three different Republicans win the first three early states; Southerner Newt Gingrich won South Carolina that year with 40 percent.

It makes sense that South Carolina has a stronger track record than Iowa (three of the eight) and New Hampshire (six of eight). (Nevada joined the early-voting lineup in 2008 and has picked the nominee in two of the three competitive GOP races since.) For starters, it has the advantage of sifting through a significantly winnowed field. It’s not uncommon for a half-dozen or more candidates to seriously contest Iowa and New Hampshire, but by the time South Carolina rolls around, it’s only the most viable contenders who remain.

But there’s also something to be said for South Carolina being more representative of the GOP electorate as a whole. After all, it’s the first solidly Republican state to vote — while Iowa and New Hampshire are historically swing states, South Carolina has voted Republican in every presidential election since 1980, when the primary began.

—Jacob Rubashkin, Inside Elections

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