COLUMBIA, S.C. — Call it the fight for the coast.
Mitt Romney's presidential challengers were to campaign up and down the South Carolina shoreline on Sunday as they worked to stymie the GOP front-runner one week before this state's pivotal GOP primary. The former Massachusetts governor was taking a rare day off the campaign trail ahead of a jam-packed week that includes a pair of debates — one in Myrtle Beach on Monday and another in Charleston on Thursday.
The South Carolina coast is a heavily populated area that's home to many veterans, active military personnel, moderates and fiscal conservatives whose support Romney and his rivals are counting on as they work to cobble together the diverse voting coalition needed to win the state on Jan. 21.
Florida votes just 10 days later, putting pressure on Romney's opponents to dramatically shift the trajectory of the race over the next week.
Three of Romney's challengers — former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Texas Gov. Rick Perry — were appearing on national Sunday morning talk shows before making the rounds of churches and prayer breakfasts. The state has a large segment of church-goers and candidates are trying to woo evangelicals who make up a significant number of GOP primary voters.
Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman also was attending religious services, while another contender — Texas Rep. Ron Paul — was returning to the campaign trail for the first time since Wednesday. He has spent several days at home in Texas after his second-place finish in the New Hampshire primary last week. He was set to unveil what his campaign said was a big endorsement.
A week before the primary, polls show Romney leading as he works to capitalize on back-to-back victories in Iowa and New Hampshire, the first two states to hold contests in the march to the GOP nomination.
The stakes are high in South Carolina, a state that historically has voted for the Republican candidate who eventually won the party's nomination.