S.C. voters’ chance to choose

Marc Scheineson of McLean, Va., left, campaigns for Republican presidential candidate, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, as Atlant Schmidt of Nashua, N.H., campaigns for Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., while a voter walks past at a polling location at Broad Street Elementary in Nashua, N.H., Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2016, during the New Hampshire primary. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

This isn’t the first presidential-election year in which many Americans have perceived an alarming lack of high-quality White House candidates.

But this is the last month in which South Carolinians can have a direct — and potentially crucial — impact on who wins the two major parties’ 2016 presidential nominations.

Thus, as our state’s Feb. 20 Republican and Feb. 27 Democratic presidential primaries draw closer, S.C. voters should carefully consider the Oval Office cases being made by those still vying for our nation’s highest office.

There are ample opportunities for such assessments of the candidates now in our midst. And while the GOP field was once quite crowded, it has thinned in recent weeks. Mike Huckabee and Rand Paul dropped out last week after dismal showings in the Iowa Caucuses. Chris Christie and Carly Fiorina withdrew this week after finishing way back in the New Hampshire primary.

That leaves these six candidates scheduled to debate Saturday night in Greenville: front-runner and New Hampshire winner Donald Trump, Iowa winner Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, John Kasich, Jeb Bush and Ben Carson.

Less than two weeks ago, before any voters had cast ballots, some pundits had already deemed the GOP race as being down to just two contenders — Mr. Trump and Mr. Cruz.

Then Sen. Rubio came in a surprisingly strong third in Iowa. Numerous analysts adjusted their assessment and deemed it a three-way race.

However, Sen. Rubio had a rough debate outing in New Hampshire last Saturday night, and finished fifth in that state’s primary three days later. Meanwhile, Gov. Kasich surged to a second-place New Hampshire finish, albeit far behind Mr. Trump. That moved some observers to argue that Mr. Kasich might also have a bona fide shot.

Regardless of such analyses, though, this much is clear: The first two GOP contests significantly changed perceptions of who still can — and who can’t — win that race.

As for the Democrats, Bernie Sanders’ impressive showings in Iowa (virtual tie) and New Hampshire (lopsided victory) have further rattled past notions that Hillary Clinton was a lock to lead the ticket.

In other words, there’s a lot riding on the outcomes of both S.C. presidential primaries.

So don’t despair yet over who’s running, winning and losing. There’s still a long way to go before the presidential nominations are decided.

But South Carolinians will have their say in those outcomes much sooner.

So as our state’s dates with presidential primary destiny draw near, fully inform yourself about the candidates — and not just from their rising flood of campaign commercials.

And please, choose wisely.