MOUNT PLEASANT, S.C.—South Carolina sends six Republicans to the House of Representatives. If the Rand Paul campaign has its way, at least half of them will endorse the Kentucky senator for president. Today, before Paul's foreign policy-focused speech in front of the decommissioned USS Yorktown, his campaign sent out a video from Representative Mick Mulvaney—like Paul, a class of 2010 victor—that all but endorsed the senator.
"Rand is going to be a tremendous candidate for president, and I think he'd make a tremendous president," said Mulvaney into a camera. "I encourage you folks to get involved with the campaign."
Not an hour later, Representative Mark Sanford took a podium to introduce Paul to his district. "What stands out for me about Rand Paul is this belief in the pursuit of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," said Sanford, "and the degree to which in his time in the United States Senate he has been a consistent advocate." He led a "Rand Paul!" call and response chant. Yet after the event, he stopped short of a Paul endorsement.
"I've long endorsed the ideas he believes in and we've long shared a belief in the ideas of limited government," said Sanford, as the senator signed autographs and posed for selfies nearby. "It was not a formal endorsement, but stay tuned. I don't think I will stay neutral over the long run."
The coyness had a purpose. The Paul campaign sees its launch week events as sui generis, front-page happenings. The endorsements can come later, when Paul's back in the primary states and in need of boosts over later-announcing candidates. Still, with South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham running his own surprise presidential bid, and Representative Trey Gowdy insisting on remaining neutral, it's possible that the defiantly anti-establishment, anti-Washington Paul would enter the South Carolina primary backed by most of the state's delegation. Mulvaney and Sanford are all but signed up; Representative Jeff Duncan is said to be leaning toward Paul.
For whatever that's worth. In 2008, an early endorsement by Senator Jim DeMint could not save Mitt Romney from a fourth place finish, after he gave up on competing for the state. In 2012, an endorsement from Governor Nikki Haley went to Romney, and the landslide primary win went to Newt Gingrich. That was the year that Mulvaney, a newly elected congressman, endorsed Rick Perry.
"He went for Perry," joked Gowdy at earlier this year at a South Carolina event with Mulvaney, "because he hates crowds."