Andy Dunaway, Associated Press
MAULDIN, S.C. — Mitt Romney didn't win in South Carolina in 2008, but he's back in the state and looking to capitalize on his strong position atop this year's field of Republican presidential candidates. He hopes to sway voters who were cool to him four years ago.
The former Massachusetts governor's mission recently became easier, as several rivals struggle to mend damaged campaigns ahead of Saturday's debate on foreign policy.
Rick Perry is spending nearly $1 million on a national ad buy as he tries to recover from a gaffe in a debate earlier this week when he couldn't name the third federal Cabinet agency he says he'd eliminate.
Georgia businessman Herman Cain, on the defensive over allegations that he sexually harassed women in the 1990s, spent Friday in New York.
Romney's strategy is to maintain the steady, it's-all-about-the-economy campaign that's landed him in the top tier and, behind the scenes, prepare for any of his rivals to rise.
"I know there will be one or two others that will be doing well in the polls, that'll be you know, be real contenders. That's the nature of the process," Romney told reporters after spending part of Veterans Day at a barbecue restaurant near Greenville, S.C.
"Whether it's Newt (Gingrich), or Rick (Perry), or Rick Santorum or Herman Cain, I can't tell at this point," Romney said. "I just think that I'm in a uniquely qualified position."
Romney spent most of his 45 minutes at Mutt's barbecue listening to veterans describe difficulties with the Department of Veterans Affairs' health care system or their trouble finding work after leaving the service. He also spent time prepping for the debate.
Perry was also returning to the debate stage, just three days after saying a "minor brain freeze" caused him to forget the name of the Energy Department.
Since then, Perry's campaign has spent $975,000 to air an ad nationally on Fox News Channel. He's also done a blitz of TV interviews — including David Letterman's "Late Show" — and used humor to laugh off the embarrassing gaffe as a humanizing moment.
Perry marched in Veterans Day parade in Columbia on Friday, as did fellow GOP rival Michele Bachmann, the Minnesota congresswoman.
Perry rocketed to the top of some polls when he entered the race in August. But a series of less-than-inspiring debate performances have hurt him. National donors privately worry that he won't be able to survive the gaffe.
"It's not helpful," Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad told The Associated Press on Friday.
Cain, the former chief executive of Godfather's Pizza, avoided the early voting states on Friday as he continued to face questions about the sexual harassment allegations. He was in New York for fundraisers, foreign policy briefings and interviews with Fox News Channel and the New York Post.
Cain conceded on Fox that his campaign might have to moderate its approach to the allegations. He has strongly denied the accusations against him.
"I'm going to dial it back from a 10 to a 9," Cain said, referring to his oft-repeated assertion that he's going to "let Herman be Herman."
He also defended a joke he made Thursday in Michigan about Anita Hill, who accused then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment during his confirmation hearings.
Cain said Friday that he was approached at an event by a supporter who said Hill was trying to contact him.
"And my response was 'Is she going to endorse me?'" he said.
Cain said the supporter was trying to be funny and that he tried to respond in kind.
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