BY JIM DAVENPORT
The Associated Press
COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina wasn’t kind to Mitt Romney in 2008, but the former Massachusetts governor and current presidential contender hopes for a better fate in this Southern bellwether in 2012.
He made his first trip to the state since forming a presidential exploratory committee, plying a crowd with mustard-based barbecue and boiled peanuts, and meeting with business owners carping about jobless benefits and illegal immigration. He left with a pair of endorsements from state legislators.
A crowd of about 40 in a hot warehouse stacked with plumbing supplies cheered when he said it was time for politicians to spend less time thinking about getting re-elected and more time “thinking about how to get the country on the right track and put Americans back to work.”
Romney hasn’t formally entered the race, though he’s regarded as the front-runner. He’s raising cash faster than likely opponents and gets to choose when to engage them. He’s finessing the perception of his big liability: the Massachusetts healthcare law that Obama credits as the template for the national healthcare system that Republicans abhor. Saturday was a soft opening of sorts in a state that Romney lost in 2008.
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