The Palmetto State, with large numbers of evangelicals and social conservatives, is considered less-stable terrain than New Hampshire for Romney, a Mormon and former governor of Massachusetts. It is likely the last opportunity for former House speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.), former senator Rick Santorum (Pa.) or Texas Gov. Rick Perry to revive their flagging campaigns.
Gingrich acknowledged to MSNBC on Wednesday that “it will be very hard to stop” Romney if he wins in South Carolina. In hopes of derailing him, Gingrich has released an ad that attacks Romney as a “pro-abortion governor.” But Romney told morning news anchors that his private-sector experience and job-creation focus are what voters — regardless of religious or social beliefs — are looking for.
“There are people who want to elect a commander in chief. They’re not worried about electing a pastor in chief. That’s not what I’m running for,” Romney said on MSNBC. “They want America to remain strong morally, economically and militarily. I can do that.”
On CNN, Romney said that he was “not worried in the slightest” about whether his record on abortion rights could hurt him. “Like Ronald Reagan before me, many years ago I changed from being pro-choice to pro-life,” Romney said. “I know Speaker Gingrich is going to try and throw everything he can at me. He tried here in New Hampshire. It didn’t work.”
Libertarian Rep. Ron Paul (Tex.) finished second in New Hampshire. Former Utah governor Jon Huntsman Jr. placed third, largely on the strength of the votes of independents and moderates. What the results left unclear, however, is who — if anyone — might emerge as the conservative alternative to Romney.
Santorum, who finished a mere eight votes behind Romney in Iowa, was unable to translate that into the surge he had hoped for in New Hampshire. Gingrich, who has been blistering in his criticism of Romney, also failed to break through.
Perry, having all but abandoned the state, finished at the back of the pack of major contenders.
Unlike past New Hampshire primaries, which served to clear the field of weaker candidates, this one does not appear to have reshuffled the roster.
It may, however, bring about some rethinking of the candidates’ strategies. Gingrich, despite the harsh abortion ad, sounded Tuesday night as though he was trying to climb back up on the high road.
“We’re going to take to South Carolina tonight and kick off tomorrow morning a campaign for jobs and economic growth,” Gingrich said. “A campaign for a balanced budget, a campaign for returning power to the states, a campaign for a strong national security, a campaign for a stable, solid Social Security program. ... If we are smart, we can do better things for people.”