2012 S.C. Republican presidential primary a $50 million bonus for the state, study shows

SC GOP Chairman Matt Moore

Talk about some easy homework.

The man in charge of the Republican Party in South Carolina recently completed his thesis for his master's in economics and found that hosting the 2012 Republican presidential primary paid off handsomely for the state.

According to GOP state party Chairman Matt Moore, the return hit nearly $50 million in total economic and marketing benefit on the state's behalf.

The figure breaks down to about $19.5 million in impact as a result of out-of-state money being spent here by the campaigns, their supporters, the networks and other participants on hotels, staff, car rentals, food, advertising and travel.

Additionally, the state saw some $30 million worth of positive exposure from multiple events held during the many months of campaigning, including from on-site broadcasts, interviews, datelined news stories and other publicity.

"Free marketing undoubtedly enhanced South Carolina's visibility and brand awareness," Moore said of his findings.

Moore made his calculations by using the Federal Election Commission's database of presidential spending. He also reviewed publicly available records of political TV advertising buys, and interviewed a variety of participants and followers of South Carolina's first-in-the-South GOP primary.

For example, he included in his report the spending observations of a visiting member of the news pool - Zeke Miller, who covered the 2011-2012 primary for Buzzfeed.

"You might spend a total of three weeks in South Carolina (averaged between those based there and those just following candidates) at approximately $300 per day. That is $150 on the hotel, $50 on food and drinks, $25 on gas, and $75 on a rental car," Miller said.

Based on Miller's account and from off-the-record interviews with other reporters, Moore said it can be "conservatively estimated that at least five embedded reporters from major news outlets spent over $30,000 across the state." Local economies were also boosted by hosting four nationally televised debates in different regions of the state - Charleston, Myrtle Beach, Greenville and Spartanburg - during the 2011-12 season.

Two of these showdowns cost more than $2 million each to produce. All the gatherings created a demand for carpenters, stage hands, hotels, meals and temporary staffers needed to make the debates happen.

That meant "regular people benefitted from their spending," said Moore, who pegged CNN's cost of putting on their Charleston debate at nearly $2.3 million.

"Bringing in 60 or 70 crew members for a couple weeks of hotels, that adds up to a significant amount of money," he said.

The data was assembled as part of the master's degree in economics Moore was awarded last semester at the University of South Carolina's Darla Moore School of Business. It provided what may be the first financial look of its kind beyond the horse race battle won by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich over eventual party nominee Mitt Romney.

"It shows the true value that this has to this state," said Doug Woodward, the economics professor at USC who oversaw Moore's work.

As far as media exposure, the positive press could come in the form of reporters from outside outlets focusing on the state's economic revival, as exemplified by the Boeing plant in North Charleston, instead of the old story line of South Carolina being a dying textiles state, Woodward said.

"It's a chance for the state to really do a lot to explain and promote what has happened," he said of taking any marketing advantage of the primary.

Financial numbers on the Democrats' side of the presidential race were not a part of Moore's study. The last Democratic contest here was in 2008, featuring Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton dueling for the top spot.

While some of the entities which benefitted from the 2012 GOP primary say they haven't been able to track the impact on them as detailed as Moore's study did, some agreed there was a dividend as a result.

CNN, for example, broadcast on the campus of the College of Charleston, giving exposure the school otherwise wouldn't see.

The backdrop presented "a view of the college as a place not just for history and the beaches but also showed us to be a destination for national politics," said Jimmie Foster Jr., the college's assistant vice president of enrollment.

Moore also warned that the financial numbers many not be repeated in 2016 when the state holds its next GOP presidential primary in February. One contributing factor is that the national Republican Party has decided to cut down on the number of presidential primary debates, partly because of the 2012 on-stage negativity seen in South Carolina, which wounded several candidates.

Critics also said the heavy skew on South Carolina so early in the competition for the nomination gives the state more influence than its size warrants.

"It seems almost certain that South Carolina will never again host four presidential primary debates in a twelve-month span," Moore said.

Reach Schuyler Kropf at 937-5551