News Column

Rick Santorum Could Test Romney In South Carolina

Jan 5, 2012

Jim Morrill and Tim Funk

Rick Santorum

Rick Santorum has lagged near the bottom of the pack in South Carolina, mired below 3 percent in most polls.

That's despite the fact that he's spent more time in the state than any of his Republican presidential rivals.

But since he virtually tied former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in Tuesday's Iowa caucuses, Santorum's South Carolina backers expect those numbers to climb.

"There are two viable candidates coming out of Iowa, that's Romney and Santorum," said former U.S. Rep. Gresham Barrett of Westminster, Santorum's state chairman. "Santorum is poised to win South Carolina."

Tuesday's results scrambled the primary lineup in the Palmetto State, which holds the South's first primary on Jan. 21.

Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota quit the race Wednesday. After a fifth-place finish in Iowa, Texas Gov. Rick Perry canceled several South Carolina appearances to go home and reassess his campaign. But later he tweeted: "Here we come South Carolina!!!"

Santorum, a former two-term senator from Pennsylvania, will campaign Sunday in Greenville. Romney plans to campaign in the state today and Friday alongside Gov. Nikki Haley.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is scheduled to visit Rock Hill the day after next week's New Hampshire primary. His daughter, Jackie Gingrich Cushman, has a schedule of appearances today. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas also is expected in the state.

A question of electability

It has been Gingrich who, through the most recent polls in December, has led the field in South Carolina. His supporters still say he has the best chance.

"We're just going to keep working hard ... at winning South Carolina," said Adam Waldeck, Gingrich's state director. "Newt's going to coalesce the non-Romney supporters because we believe Newt has the opportunity to win and beat (President Barack) Obama."

York County Chairman Glenn McCall, neutral in the race, said he also expects conservatives to coalesce around Gingrich. At the same time, he says he sees increasing support for Romney. That's for one reason: electability. "I'm hearing more people coming around to Romney, even up in this area (York), who are focused on defeating the president," McCall said.

By tradition, South Carolina's Republican primaries aren't bean-bag. Their history is filled with raw politics and even dirty tricks. The rawness is certain to continue.

Paul blasted Gingrich on Wednesday, calling him a "chicken hawk" for supporting U.S. military interventions even though he avoided military service himself.

In Iowa, a super-PAC supporting Romney launched a blitz of TV ads against Gingrich. And the PAC, Restore Our Future, has bought time in South Carolina for an ad attacking Gingrich and Perry.

Rick Tyler, an adviser to a pro-Gingrich super-PAC, has said the group will run ads in the state attacking Romney on issues from abortion to gun control.

So far Santorum has managed to remain virtually unscathed. Supporters believe that's one reason he's in good position to build on his Iowa success.

'Sweat equity, not money'

While his nationwide fundraising, like his poll numbers, has lagged, Santorum raised more money in South Carolina through September than all Republican candidates but Perry. With little fanfare or media attention, he has built an organization in all 46 South Carolina counties. "It's all been done with sweat equity, not money," Barrett said. "We have eked out an existence."

In the Senate, Santorum was a high-profile conservative on social and economic issues. Much of his S.C. support comes from evangelical Christians, a group expected to make up nearly 60 percent of the primary voters.

In Iowa, CNN's entry poll showed that Santorum, a Catholic, captured 32 percent of self-described evangelicals, more than any of his rivals. Romney and Gingrich each had 14 percent.

Supporter Sandy McGarry, chair of the Lancaster County GOP, told the Observer in November that she was drawn to Santorum's uncompromising stands on abortion, foreign affairs and welfare.

"He truly believes we need to get back to family values and to basics like belief in our God," she said. "And we believe that in this state -- it's in our every breath."

Santorum spokesman Hogan Gid ley said the candidate's appeal goes beyond religion. He touted Santorum's record on economic as well as foreign affairs. "It's a full-spectrum conservative message," Gidley said. "(It) resonated in Iowa, but it's going to resonate in the rest of the country, including South Carolina. Especially South Carolina."

Based on calls he received on Wednesday, Barrett said, the Iowa showing was already paying dividends.

"Whether it's South Carolina or any other place in the USA, everybody loves a winner," he said. "And he's a winner."



Source: (c)2012 The Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, N.C.)


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