Well, apparently the military voting bloc in South Carolina didn't get the memo. Not only did Mr. Paul finish last among the remaining candidates in yesterday's GOP primary, he also finished last among voters who identify themselves as members of the military, or veterans.
It's a key group in any Republican primary in the Palmetto State, and Mr. Paul didn't fare very well. According to exit poll data from CNN, one out of every five voters in Saturday's primary identified themselves as "veterans" (including active duty military as well). Collectively, they cast more than 126,000 votes for the various GOP candidates, and Congressman Paul collected only 12% of that bloc. By comparison, Newt Gingrich received 39% of the votes cast by South Carolina veterans, compared with 32% for Mitt Romney and 16% for Rick Santorum.
There is clear irony Congressman Paul's poor showing among military voters. Of the four remaining GOP candidates, Paul is the only one who has worn the nation's uniform (he served as an Air Force OB-GYN physician in the early 1960s). Gingrich and Romney used student deferments to avoid military service in the Vietnam era, while Santorum became eligible for the armed forces after the draft ended, and never volunteered. But their lack of service was hardly an impediment; collectively, those three candidates received over 200,000 votes from veterans in South Carolina, while Mr. Paul managed less than one-tenth of that total. Against individual candidates, Paul received less than one-third of the military votes tallied by Mr. Gingrich, and less than half of those received by Mitt Romney.
Why didn't the Congressmen fare better in South Carolina, where veterans are such an important segment of the electorate? Well, for starters, many are concerned about Mr. Paul's hopelessly naive statements on foreign policy, including his suggestion that we "accept" a nuclear-armed Iran. Among the many military veterans in South Carolina are veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. While none of those men and women relish the thought of another conflict in the Middle East, many are reluctant to cede hard-worn gains in pursuit of an isolationist national security agenda, and they realize that a complete U.S. withdrawal from the region would be disastrous. That's why so many of them pulled the lever for Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney and even Rick Santorum.
To be fair, Congressman Paul has his supporters in the military community. But many of them are first-term, junior-enlisted personnel who have a world view similar to their civilian peers. To those voters, Paul's anti-war message has broad appeal. But among career officers and NCOs (and military retirees), there is decidedly less support for his policies, and that explains his poor showing among veterans in South Carolina.
Why does this matter? Because Florida has an even larger military population, although its a smaller segment of a huge electorate. But in the counties of Northwest Florida, the Jacksonville area, the Space Coast and the Tampa area, the military vote is a key block, one that is likely to further damage Mr. Paul's prospects on primary day in the Sunshine State.