With former Gov. Mitt Romney following up his success in the Iowa caucus by winning the New Hampshire primary on Tuesday night, his rivals in the race for the Republican presidential nomination turned to South Carolina, which is next up with a primary on Jan. 21, on Wednesday to slow down his momentum.
Romney became the first nonincumbent Republican presidential candidate to win both the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary. South Carolina -- which was pivotal in deciding the Republican presidential nomination in 1988, 1996, 2000 and 2008 -- has emerged as the last chance for some of the more conservative candidates in the race to get back in the race.
Former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who finished a distant fourth in New Hampshire, continues to be the most aggressive candidate taking aim at Romney. Gingrich is hammering Romney in ads in South Carolina attacking the front-runner. With South Carolina among the most conservative states in the nation, Gingrich has been running an ad attacking Romney on social issues this week.
"What happened after Massachusetts moderate Mitt Romney changed his position from pro-abortion to pro-life?" the narrator asks in one Gingrich television ad hitting the airwaves in the Palmetto State. "He governed pro-abortion. Romney appointed a pro-abortion judge, expanded access to abortion pills, put Planned Parenthood on a state medical board but failed to put a pro-life group on the same board. And Romney signed government-mandated health care with taxpayer-funded abortions. Massachusetts moderate Mitt Romney: He can't be trusted."
Gingrich has a busy day in the Palmetto State on Wednesday, meeting with the Rock Hill Republicans and the Spartanburg County GOP. He also held a teleconference event with supporters and campaigned in Spartanburg.
With Gingrich hailing from neighboring Georgia, South Carolina appears to be make or break for the former congressional leader, who placed far behind Romney in both Iowa and New Hampshire. The Palmetto State appears less crucial for U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, who finished third in Iowa and a strong second in New Hampshire.
Paul held a rally in West Columbia on Wednesday afternoon. The Paul camp has been running ads in the Palmetto State since the end of December. While some of the ads have focused on Pauls background and his pro-life record, last week he launched ads attacking former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania.
After his fifth-place showing in New Hampshire, Santorum is looking to establish a grassroots team in South Carolina. With a strong grassroots organization, Santorum came very close -- only eight votes short -- of toppling Romney in the Iowa caucus. Looking to have the same kind of success in South Carolina, Santorum unveiled almost 170 county leaders in the state on Wednesday.
"I am honored to receive this tremendous outpouring of support from such an esteemed group of Palmetto State community leaders, Santorum said in a statement. Through their hard work, we will be able to capitalize on our growing momentum in the early primary states, and catapult our campaign to victory in the First-in-the-South primary. I have committed and am committed to winning the South Carolina primary and I look forward to working with this terrific team as we put our plan for victory into action over the coming weeks."
Santorum spent the day campaigning in South Carolina, hitting Ridgeway and Columbia. On Thursday, he will focus on the Low Country -- Sun City, Hilton Head, Beaufort and Charleston.
Finishing third in New Hampshire, which has been the focus of his campaign, former Gov. Jon Huntsman of Utah hit Columbia and North Charleston on Wednesday as he turned his attention to South Carolina. Huntsman will head to Daniel Island on Thursday to attend an event backed by the Berkeley County Republicans.
Trying to get back in the race after ignoring the New Hampshire primary, Texas Gov. Rick Perry unveiled a new ad on Wednesday hitting the airwaves in South Carolina. Perry plays up his service in the U.S. Air Force in the ad, which features veterans praising the Lone Star State governor.
"The decorated military veterans in this TV ad speak strongly for Governor Perry's character, faith and leadership," said Ray Sullivan, a spokesman for Perry, in a statement on Wednesday. "These vets know Rick Perry's pro-American, pro-job and pro-veteran record. Additionally, Governor Perry is the one true Washington outsider left in this race and has an unparalleled record of job creation, having created more than 1 million net new jobs while in office."
"Washington's broken. Replacing one Washington insider with another won't change a thing," Perry says in the ad. "I'm the outsider who's willing to step on some toes. We can surely recapture what is great about America. And we can restore this nation to its pre-eminence in the world as a beacon of individual liberty and economic prosperity. And there is no greater cause in our time."
Despite the efforts of his five rivals and his fourth-place showing there in 2008, Romney, who has the support of South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, starts as the favorite in the Palmetto State
A poll from We Asked America released on Tuesday, the day of his win in New Hampshire, found Romney ahead in South Carolina. Romney led the poll of likely primary voters with 26 percent, followed by Gingrich with 21 percent. Santorum took third with 13 percent, followed by Paul with 8 percent. Perry took 5 percent and Huntsman garnered 4 percent. Twenty-two percent of those surveyed were undecided.
The poll of 993 likely Republican primary voters was taken Jan. 9 and had a margin of error of +/- 3.11 percent.
On Wednesday, Paddy Power, the largest oddsmaker in Ireland, installed Romney as the favorite to win South Carolina. They made Romney a 2-5 favorite to win the primary. Gingrich comes next at 7-2 odds, followed by Santorum at 11-2 and Paul at 25-1. Perry gets 33-1 odds while Huntsman is a dark horse at 100-1.
Paddy Power also installed Romney as 1-8 favorite to win the Republican nomination. Gingrich and Paul stand behind him with 14-1 odds for the nomination.
Having scraped to victory in Iowa, Romney will be keen to build momentum on the back of his convincing win in New Hampshire, Paddy Power said in a statement on Wednesday. The race is far from over, but its fair to say that the chasing pack have an awful lot of catching up to do.
Reach Kevin Derby at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (850) 727-0859.