Associated Press
Republican presidential candidate, Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, and his wife Carol, arrive by plane for a whistle-stop at the Grand Strand Airport in North Myrtle Beach, S.C. on Friday Jan. 20, 2012. (AP Photo/The Sun News, Steve Jessmore)

GRANITEVILLE, S.C. — Supporters of Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul didn't seem to mind Friday that he has campaigned less aggressively in South Carolina than he did in other early voting states.

But it was far from clear during a whirlwind circuit around the state the day before the crucial Southern primary whether the libertarian-leaning Texas congressman would send a message here as his outsider candidacy did in Iowa and New Hampshire.

"I took a day off of the campaign trail," Paul told an audience of about 200 in a packed banquet hall outside Aiken. "I wanted to make sure I was recorded voting against the national debt limit."

The remark, explaining Paul's temporary departure in the campaign Wednesday to vote in Congress, ignited cheers from the audience in southwestern South Carolina.

Paul drew a crowd of several hundred in Greenville despite heavy rain and frigid temperatures.

"When we were flying and the weather was getting bad, I thought, is anyone going to show up?" Paul said, clearly buoyed by the turnout. The audience cheered.

It was a far different scene early Friday, before Paul began a six-city tour of South Carolina in a small plane. He drew fewer than 100 people to a cavernous airplane hangar in North Charleston, although the audience did include some die-hard supporters.

"When you hear the word principle, you think of Ron Paul. He's the embodiment of that," said Derek Smith, a 26-year-old engineer for the Navy in Charleston. "If he were to run as a third-party candidate, I would vote for him unconditionally."

Paul finished in a strong third place in the Iowa caucuses on Jan. 3, and claimed a distant second to Mitt Romney in New Hampshire. Paul's aides have tried to lower expectations in South Carolina.