Huntsman departure a marginal help to Romney in SC

By Thomas Beaumont

Associated Press

Published: Monday, Jan. 16 2012 12:00 a.m. MST

Conservative author Eric Metaxas indirectly suggested Perry should quit the race while speaking at a packed prayer breakfast in Myrtle Beach on Sunday. The night before he had tweeted: "Dear Gov. Perry: Do the right thing for your country; endorse Rick Santorum before the SC Primary next Saturday...you'll wish you had."

Some South Carolina Republicans still rue McCain's narrow 2008 win over the more socially conservative Mike Huckabee, allowed largely by former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson's decision to stay in the race.

Katon Dawson, Perry's South Carolina chairman, resisted the idea that there was a drumbeat for Perry to quit. "I find it sort of offensive that some Republicans would tell us they want to hand pick the candidate before the election," Dawson said.

Ralph Reed, founder of the national Faith and Freedom Coalition, also said he knew of no effort by the conservative leaders who met Saturday in Texas to urge Perry to quit.

"We have never asked any candidate to drop out of the race publicly or privately. And we will not do so," Reed said.

Some evangelical pastors and conservative leaders in Iowa had asked Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann to consider ending her campaign to allow a conservative to emerge. She did not, and Romney edged Santorum in Iowa by a razor-thin eight votes.

With Perry showing no signs of departing, Santorum faces the added burden of a barrage of attack ads by an independent super PAC that supports Romney's campaign.

The group, Restore Our Future, was running almost $900,000 worth of advertising this week, more than any of the candidates' campaigns and all of it against Santorum.

Santorum complained Monday about the ads, which accuse him of having supported earmark spending in Congress and supporting voting rights for felons.

Santorum has defended his support for earmark spending. He said Monday he supports allowing felons who have completed their sentences to apply to have their voting rights restored, a policy that is law in 48 states.

Restore Our Future spent roughly $3 million on similar anti-Gingrich ads in the final month of the Iowa campaign and was seen as contributing to his fourth-place finish in the caucuses.

A similar group that supports Gingrich was running roughly $850,000 in ads against Romney.

Hunt reported from Myrtle Beach, S.C. Associated Press writer Shannon McCaffrey in Myrtle Beach, S.C., contributed to this report.

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