Romney aiming for "knockout punch" in South Carolina

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 18 2012 7:00 p.m. MST

Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, campaigns with South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley at the American Legion Post 15 in Sumter, S.C., Saturday, Jan. 14, 2012.

Charles Dharapak, Associated Press

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» View our political blog, with live updates and analysis of the South Carolina primary.

SPARTANBURG, South Carolina — Susan Gray said she voted for Mitt Romney four years ago and will again in Saturday's primary, which could decide the GOP nominee in the 2012 presidential race.

"Romney has been steady," Gray said, taking a break from her fund-raising job at Wofford College to hear the frontrunner address a crowd of about 300 people at the small private liberal arts campus Wednesday.

She said the former Massachusetts governor has the business experience the country needs. "That's where he's been consistent," Gray said. "That is the guiding issue for me right now. That is it for me."

Romney is leading in the polls in the first southern state to vote this election year after initially coming out on top in both the Iowa caucuses and last week's New Hampshire primary. 

Thursday, certified election results out of Iowa were expected to show that former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum actually won the presidential poll taken Jan. 3 at GOP caucuses throughout Iowa by 34 votes, but it is not clear how that will impact voters in Saturday's primary.

Also uncertain Thursday was the effect of Texas Gov. Rick Perry leaving the race. Perry was once the leading conservative alternative to Romney but fell far behind the GOP pack after a poor debate performance before the Iowa vote. 

Gray said she'd briefly considered switching her support to Perry, but decided to stick with Romney after Perry struggled to answer a question during that debate, finally shrugging and saying, "Oops."

A victory in South Carolina has been widely seen as making Romney unstoppable in his second run for the White House.

"He's sensing if he can win in South Carolina, it's all over," said Dave Woodard, a political science professor and pollster at Clemson University. "It's game, set and match to Mitt Romney."

He said a win in South Carolina would have a special significance to Romney, the only moderate Republican in the race after former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman dropped out earlier this week, because it would prove his appeal to the party's conservative base.

Romney is pulling out all the stops for a "knockout punch" in South Carolina, bombarding voters, Woodard said, with automated telephone calls and mailings daily, in addition to a significant share of the seemingly non-stop campaign TV commercials from both candidates and the so-called "super PACS," independently run political action committees.

"There's so much skill in this. Nobody's in his league," Woodard said. "Someday we'll study the Romney campaign in South Carolina as a model for the way to do it."

Romney's wife, Ann, however, was cautious in her assessment of the race.

"We're hoping for a win, but this is a tough state. We all know it's tough," Ann Romney told the Deseret News. "You know, we've got a lot of friends here. So we're hopeful."

One of those friends, South Carolina State Treasurer Curtis Loftis Jr., shared the stage with Romney at the campus stop. Loftis, a tea partier, is South Carolina state chairman for Romney's campaign.

"He's going to do very well because he's a good and honorable man and people in South Carolina value those qualities," Loftis said.

He said Romney is winning over voters who in the 2008 race might not have been entirely comfortable with his Mormon faith or his evolving views over the years on issues important to social conservatives, including abortion.

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