SC GOP Heavies tell Romney: Focus Here If You Want the Vote

Thursday, 15 Dec 2011 12:06 PM

By Dan Weil

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Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has spent only 13 days in South Carolina this year — about 25 percent of the time he has spent in New Hampshire — and he better step it up if he wants to win the state’s primary, South Carolina Republican heavyweights tell The Hill.

The state’s primary is Jan. 21, following Iowa and New Hampshire. The importance of South Carolina can’t be overstated. Since the state began primaries in 1980, every winner has gone on to capture the Republican nomination.

The former Massachusetts governor faces some obstacles in the Palmetto State, which skews conservative and evangelical. But he can do well there if he pounds the pavement, major Republican figures in the state say.

Romney has stood near the top in South Carolina polls for most of the year. But a recent survey showed him trailing Newt Gingrich, 41 percent to 23 percent. Still, the former House speaker
has virtually no campaign structure in South Carolina, giving Romney an opening.

“Nobody has a real organization. . . . I don’t even know where to go get a bumper sticker from anybody,” South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham told The Hill. He has decided not to endorse a candidate.

“I would urge Gov. Romney to run hard in South Carolina,” Graham said. “I don’t think anybody has put together much of an organization . . . We can’t support people who ignore our state. I think Gov. Romney could win South Carolina if he won New Hampshire. That’s possible, but that would take effort.”

South Carolina Rep. Tim Scott put it more bluntly. “I don’t think he’s spending enough time in the state,” Scott told The Hill. “South Carolina is up for grabs, and if he doesn’t win, it’s because he’s made the decision not to spend time here.”

The Romney campaign says it’s going to heed the advice. “We’ll be in the state this weekend, and we’re going to be making more trips in the future,” Romney spokesman Ryan Williams told The Hill.

But J. Warren Tompkins, a veteran South Carolina GOP operative who worked for Romney in 2008, isn’t so sure retail campaigning is the key to success for Romney in South Carolina. It’s more about message and momentum, he told The Hill.

“The last couple of cycles have proven that messenger and message matter more. There’s more emphasis being placed on that than the traditional grassroots organizing.”

Romney may be wary of a repeat of his 2008 performance in the Palmetto State. He spent much of his early campaign time in the state and was in a three-way tie for first place near the end of December 2007. He then dropped his focus on the state a few weeks before the primary to target Michigan and Florida. The result: Romney came in fourth with 15 percent of the vote.

The Romney campaign doesn’t want to set expectations too high and then suffer a humiliating defeat. “We have a leaner and meaner campaign in South Carolina and in other states,” Williams said.

“Nationally, our staff is smaller compared to previous campaigns. We’re running a different type of effort that allows the governor to be competitive in the early states and focus on the later states as well.”

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