Severe weather could tamp down South Carolina turnout

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Thunderstorms drenching much of South Carolina on Saturday have some Republicans worried that there will be lower than expected turnout throughout the state, with many polling stations seeing only light voting in the early morning.

Forecasters are warning that there is a possibility or tornadoes or hail in northern and central areas of the state, where there are large concentrations of GOP voters. That could wash out the expected uptick of voters later in the day.

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The nasty weather already forced Rick Santorum to reschedule a planned campaign event at a polling station in Chapin for later in the afternoon. At a Newt Gingrich appearance earlier in Greenville, a sudden downpour stranded at least one reporter in a muddy parking lot.

"The fact that the citizens of South Carolina are turning out to vote in what has been a stormy day in many parts of the state is a testament to their dedication to making their voices heard by casting their ballots," said Marci Andino, executive director of the S.C. State Election Commission. "We appreciate the preparation, enthusiasm and dedication of voters who went to the polls and voted today, and encourage those who have not yet voted to do so by 7 p.m. today."

The election commission said that turnout had varied at precincts across the state.

"Overall, it'll probably be a little bit lower with the tornado warnings," South Carolina GOP Chairman Chad Connelly said. "We won't really know until next week when we can look at it precinct by precinct, but people just aren't as likely to come out when it's pouring rain."

One candidate is actually encouraged by the less than ideal weather - Ron Paul. The Texas congressman, whose campaign is reliant on his passionate supporters, joked Friday that his campaign staff was praying for bad weather to tamp down turnouts for the other candidates.

Voters in rainy Charleston, S.C., by Greg Nash"When we were flying in, the weather was getting bad, and it was starting to rain, and I thought, is anybody going to show up?” Paul said in Greenville Friday, according to the Daily Caller. “And somebody said, can you doubt that the weather is going to keep them at home?”

These guys are praying for bad weather tomorrow so that all those other people stay home tomorrow,” Paul said.

Matt Moore, executive director of the South Carolina Republican Party, said that he only had heard anecdotal stories from precincts, but didn't believe even muted turnout would do anything to "diminish the importance of South Carolina."

"Whoever wins in South Carolina is going to have a big head of steam going into Florida," Moore said. "I don't think the turnout numbers are something the people watching at home are worried about."

But The State, a Columbia newspaper, reported strong turnout in traditionally Democratic precincts in the Midlands. South Carolina has an open primary, allowing individuals to vote in either party's nominating contest.

High turnout in Democratic districts could bode well for Paul, who has shown some crossover appeal among liberals, or for a candidate who isn't running - Herman Cain. Late night comedian Stephen Colbert has been campaigning throughout the state urging voters to vote for Cain, who was forced from the race in December after multiple allegations of sexual impropriety surfaced, as a proxy for his own faux-presidential bid.

Daniel Strauss contributed.