Romney can see the finish line from South Carolina

January 12, 2012
By Michael Finnegan, John Hoeffel and Alana Semuels, Los Angeles Times
Reporting from Rock Hill, Columbia and Ridgeway,— A day after Mitt Romney‘s lopsided New Hampshire victory, the Republican presidential race shifted to South Carolina, where his rivals face possibly their last shot at stopping him from sealing the nomination.
Romney’s opponents are betting that a strongly conservative state with a large evangelical population will reject a former Massachusetts governor with a mixed record on social issues. But Romney is leading in polls here, and South Carolina appears ripe for Romney’s economic message. The state has regained less than a third of the 165,000 jobs it lost in the recession.Romney’s advertising in South Carolina has focused relentlessly on his pledge to revive the economy by shrinking government. It is a message he hopes will resonate not just with moderate Republicans in Myrtle Beach, Charleston and other coastal areas, but also with many of the conservative upstate evangelicals who dominate the GOP in South Carolina.

And even if evangelicals spurn him, his opponents are almost certain to carve up that vote, considerably enhancing Romney’s chances of winning the state.

So far, polls suggest, the race is Romney’s to lose, as even his rival Newt Gingrich conceded Wednesday.

“Look, let’s be clear: If Romney can win South Carolina, he’s probably going to be the nominee,” the former House speaker told MSNBC.

South Carolina’s six-man brawl opened with new assaults on Romney’s business record by Gingrich and Texas Gov. Rick Perry. Supporters of Romney, in turn, resumed airing a TV attack ad against Gingrich.

From Charleston Harbor to the northern hill country, theWhite House contenders scattered across South Carolina, braving rain all the way.

Local newscasts were crammed with scenes of the would-be presidents: Rep. Ron Paul of Texas whipping up “End the Fed!” cheers at a Columbia airplane hangar rally, Gingrich signing books in Spartanburg, Perry shaking hands at a Lizard’s Thicket diner in Lexington.

Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., who finished third in the New Hampshire primary, hopes to erode Romney’s support among moderates.

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