A lot of people seem to be surprised that Mitt Romney is consistently ahead in the polls in South Carolina. I think the only surprise here is that anyone is surprised.
The state establishment has known for a while that Romney is going to win the nomination. South Carolina cannot affect the outcome. The only thing left now is protecting the brand.
What brand? The South Carolina Republican Primary brand. Iowa has a brand -- the first contest in the nation. New Hampshire has a brand - the first primary in the nation. South Carolina has a distinct brand too - the first must-win Republican primary in the nation.
It is nice to do well in the Iowa caucuses, but the participation is really optional. McCain skipped the state four years ago and won the nomination. Quite a few others before him managed to get nominated without winning Iowa. A victory in New Hampshire is optional too.
But nobody has won the Republican nomination without winning the South Carolina primary ever since Lee Atwater made that contest one of the earliest on the calendar in 1980. The only major candidate who ever dared to skip South Carolina in recent times was Rudy Giuliani, and it did not work out well for him.
Breaking the streak might mean more than just losing a little magic and having to add qualifiers like "usually" and "all but one." Just imagine a scenario: First the state gets a reputation as a place where Northeastern politicians do not do well (even if they are national frontrunners) and where Southerners and social conservatives limp to after getting badly beaten in New Hampshire. The next thing you know is Chris Christie skipping South Carolina and still easily winning the nomination. And eventually the RNC is under pressure to reshuffle the primary schedule and let some new states a chance to go soon after New Hampshire...
Therefore the South Carolina GOP, the media and assorted businesses all have a vital interest in protecting the brand. And the only way they can protect it is by pulling all the stops for Romney.