With New Hampshire hosting the first Republican presidential primary in four days, Mitt Romney started his day about 1,000 miles away in South Carolina.
Romney, the front-runner in the race, campaigned in the Myrtle Beach area this morning as rivals stayed put in New Hampshire to take aim at him. Though Romney is back in New Hampshire for an evening rally, his South Carolina trip and ads he is running there and in Florida highlight the resources and advantages allowing his campaign to fight on multiple fronts.
Leaving New Hampshire, where Romney has a solid lead in polls, for South Carolina is a sign of a confident campaigner who is looking to parlay his strengths in fundraising and political organization into a quick nomination victory, say analysts.
“I guess there’s a little risk to it,” Dante Scala, a political scientist at the University of New Hampshire in Durham, said in an interview. Still, with “no indication that there’s any slippage” to Romney’s lead in New Hampshire, “you can see why from the perspective of the national campaign it makes sense,” Scala said.
Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, spent more than $208,000 on television ads in South Carolina through Jan. 5, according to data from New York-based Kantar Media’s CMAG, which tracks advertising.
As in New Hampshire and Iowa -- where Romney eked out an eight-vote win in the Jan. 3 caucuses -- a pro-Romney political committee independent of his campaign is running ads attacking other Republican White House contenders in South Carolina, which holds its primary Jan. 21.
One ad financed by the committee, Restore Our Future, says former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Texas Governor Rick Perry are “too liberal on immigration” and have “too much baggage on ethics.” Restore our Future spent about $86,000 on TV ads in South Carolina through Jan. 5, CMAG data show.
“If Romney wins South Carolina, he is the proverbial nominee,” Jim Dyke, a Republican strategist based in the state who isn’t aligned with a campaign, said in an interview.
Though U.S. Representative Ron Paul of Texas and a political committee backing Perry also have advertised in South Carolina, Romney is the only candidate running television spots in Florida, which holds its primary Jan. 31 and has more than twice as many residents as Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina combined. His 5 percentage point loss to Arizona Senator John McCain in Florida’s 2008 primary helped doom Romney’s presidential bid that year.
‘Could Be Over’
A “big win” by Romney in New Hampshire “will translate itself into South Carolina and Florida, and I think this thing could be over a lot sooner than a lot of people think,” McCain said Jan. 4 on Fox News after endorsing his former rival.
Romney was joined at an outdoor rally yesterday in Charleston, South Carolina, by McCain and the state’s Republican governor, Nikki Haley.
Romney’s strategy for wooing support in South Carolina includes assailing President Barack Obama’s labor policies. He began airing an ad in the state yesterday that attacks an Obama administration decision to sue Boeing Co. for opening a plant in South Carolina. The ad shows Romney describing as “un-American” the decision by a National Labor Relations Board he said was “stacked with union stooges.” The Boeing case was settled in December.
“He’s a job killer; he doesn’t mean to be, he just is,” Romney said of Obama at the Charleston event. Earlier in the day in New Hampshire, Romney criticized three appointments Obama made to the NLRB without Senate consent, saying the president did so to repay labor unions for their political support.
It’s a theme Romney probably will elaborate on in union-unfriendly South Carolina. Just 4.6 percent of wage and salary workers in South Carolina belonged to a union in 2010, compared to 11.9 percent nationwide, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Focusing on Obama’s labor policy and the Boeing issue “will play very, very well” among the state’s Republican primary voters, Karen Kedrowski, a political scientist at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, South Carolina, said in an interview.
“If he was able to push those kinds of buttons, it’s going to play well and bring up his conservative credentials” in a state where many Republicans are skeptical of Romney, Kedrowski said.
Former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman Jr., who has focused his hopes in the Republican presidential race on New Hampshire, took a shot at Romney last night for his South Carolina trip. Huntsman told his listeners at a rally in Newport, New Hampshire that the state’s voters “want people to earn their vote, as opposed to sitting down in South Carolina, so certain of victory,” according to NBC News.
Rick Santorum, who finished second in the Iowa caucuses, hasn’t yet aired television ads in South Carolina, according to CMAG data.
The independent committee backing Perry has spent about $1.2 million on television ads in South Carolina, far more than any other candidate or political group, CMAG data show. After a fifth-place finish in Iowa, Perry is focusing on South Carolina to keep his campaign afloat.
South Carolina “is definitely his last stand,” Dyke said.
Paul, who finished third in Iowa, touts his military service and opposition to abortion in his South Carolina ads. He’s spent about $54,000 on television in the state, CMAG data show.
Romney is backed by 37 percent of those likely to vote in the South Carolina primary, according to a CNN/Time/ORC International poll taken Jan. 4-5. Santorum was second with 19 percent for Santorum, followed by 18 percent for Gingrich, 12 percent for Paul and 5 percent for Perry. The survey’s margin of error was plus or minus 4.5 percentage points. One month ago, Gingrich led Romney in a similar poll, 43 percent to 20 percent.
The Romney ad that began running in Florida yesterday is a positive, biographical one. His campaign aired the same ad in Iowa and it is on the air in New Hampshire. He spent about $213,000 on the ad in its first two days, according to CMAG.
Restore Our Future, the pro-Romney committee operating separately from his campaign, has spent more than $540,000 in Florida since Dec. 16 on an ad that attacks Gingrich for having “a ton of baggage.”
No other candidate or political committee promoting one has aired television ads in Florida. Susan MacManus, a political scientist at the University of South Florida in Tampa, said that Romney’s rivals would need to save campaign cash to run ads in a state that includes 10 major media markets and where a vigorous television campaign can cost upward of $1 million per week.
“You’ve got to pay to play in Florida, because you can’t do retail politics as easily,” MacManus said.