In S.C. to campaign for Nikki Haley, Mitt Romney decries Obama oil spill efforts

Cleanup and containment efforts continue at the Gulf of Mexico site of the oil spill following the Deepwater Horizon explosion.
By Amy Gardner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 18, 2010; 1:35 PM

CHARLESTON, S.C. -- Former Massachusetts governor and 2008 presidential contender Mitt Romney on Friday criticized President Obama's leadership of efforts to cap the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Romney said he is glad for BP's agreement to set aside $20 billion to cover damages from the spill to private property and business owners. But he said the White House has ceded too much control over managing the still-spewing leak to the giant oil company.

"In this kind of a crisis situation, the president's response should have been to step in, bring in the experts, people from various oil companies, institutions, academics and engineering firms and look for different options for capping this oil spill," Romney said. "It's something he has delegated to BP."

Romney added: "The company is responsible for causing the spill in the first place. I think it's a mistake to rely on BP for 60 days or so to make decisions on how to cap the oil spill. They've been ineffective in that regard."

Romney was in South Carolina to campaign for gubernatorial contender Nikki Haley, who will compete Tuesday in a Republican primary runoff against U.S. Rep. Gresham Barrett. Haley led in the primary last week with 49.5 percent of the vote, a hair's breadth short of winning the nomination outright. She is favored to win the runoff Tuesday despite attempts by detractors this week to question her Christianity.

Haley, a first-generation Indian American, was raised as a Sikh, but she converted to Methodism when she was 24.

"I think the 49 and a half percent figure that Nikki Haley garnered is a pretty clear indication that the people of South Carolina want to focus on the key issues," Romney said. "The distractions are not distractions any more."

Romney has reason to pay attention: In the 2008 GOP presidential primary, he came in fourth in South Carolina, behind John McCain, Mike Huckabee and Fred Thompson -- and one dynamic may have been the whisper campaign that some opponents were accused of conducting regarding his Mormon heritage. A South Carolina where smear campaigns don't work anymore could be a friendlier place for Romney in 2012 should he decide to seek the GOP nomination again.

Haley's endorsement of Romney wouldn't hurt, either -- should she win the governor's race. She demurred on the question Friday, although she did say, "Oh, what a different place we would have been if we'd had a business man in the White House!"

Romney, meanwhile, is putting more than appearances in for the rising GOP star; according to new campaign finance reports, his federal and state political action committees together have contributed about $42,000 to Haley's campaign -- more than all but one other contributor.

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