Republican voters will begin picking a nominee in just 18 days, leaving little time for the hopefuls to close the sale. Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.) and Texas Gov. Rick Perry dashed across Iowa on bus tours Friday, while Gingrich retired to his Virginia home to prepare for the final push.
Gingrich has made South Carolina a cornerstone of his strategy and has built a double-digit lead here. But buoyed by the backing of Haley and her political organization, Romney said he hopes to challenge Gingrich for a win in the Jan. 21 primary.
Republican strategists unaligned with any campaign said Romney seemed to have stabilized his campaign this week, and for the first time showed he was fighting hard for the nomination.
The Romney campaign has “weathered a turbulent period and seem to have regained equilibrium in the context of the Gingrich surge,” said Steve Schmidt, the top strategist on John McCain’s 2008 campaign.
With Gingrich off the campaign trail, Romney tried to seize momentum with a display of organizational force. The former Massachusetts governor began airing his first television advertisement in South Carolina, and was planning a return visit to New Hampshire next week.
Romney, who has been husbanding his resources and who raised millions more in a series of large fundraisers in the New York area this week, is doubling down on his strategy to compete state by state in what could be a long quest to amass enough convention delegates to secure the nomination.
“I see every state as a battlefield,” Romney said.
He appeared to stumble Friday morning when he said in Sioux City, Iowa, that he didn’t understand Medicaid until he started working in government. Democrats seized on the remark to paint Romney as wealthy and out of touch with the poor Americans who benefit from the government health-care program.
Romney later told reporters that his comment was a “self-deprecating understatement.” He said he knew the premise of Medicaid, but did not understood the details of its structure or financing until he entered politics.
For the first time, Romney ferried reporters from Iowa to South Carolina aboard a charter plane that his wife, Ann, playfully dubbed “Hair Force One,” in honor of her husband’s slick salt-and-pepper bouffant. The candidate seemed upbeat, telling reporters stories about his father, his years in France as a missionary and his past Christmas vacations with his grandchildren.