Will South Carolina’s conservative GOP electorate be as welcoming to Mitt Romney as New Hampshire’s primary voters were?


Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney. (AP Photo/The Post And Courier, Grace Beahm)

“Well, I was very happy in looking at the numbers last night in New Hampshire, that people who designated themselves as very conservative voted for me in the majority, and likewise among evangelicals,” Romney told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on Wednesday morning, one day after his big Granite State win. “I got the largest number of supporters among evangelicals as well. So that’s encouraging.”

Romney also noted, “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.”

Tuesday’s exit polls bear that out. Romney won 30 percent of evangelical voters in New Hampshire – a higher percentage even than former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum, who took 23 percent, and former House speaker Newt Gingrich, who took 13 percent. Among non-evangelicals, Romney took 40 percent.

Romney also outperformed his rivals among those describing themselves as “very conservative,” wining 33 percent of their vote. The closest runner-up was Santorum with 26 percent.

Romney noted on “Morning Joe” that Bob Jones III, the former chancellor of the influential evangelical Christian school in Greenville, S.C., had endorsed his 2008 bid.

“You know, last time I met with Bob Jones -- this was four years ago -- he endorsed my effort,” Romney said.

Jones had told the Greenville News at the time that he continued to believe Mormonism was an “erroneous religion” but that he was endorsing Romney in an effort to defeat then-Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R), both of whom hold pro-abortion-rights views.

“As a Christian I am completely opposed to the doctrines of Mormonism,” Jones told the Greenville News. “But I’m not voting for a preacher. I’m voting for a president. It boils down to who can best represent conservative American beliefs, not religious beliefs.”

Asked about the attacks on his record at Bain Capital by his GOP primary rivals, Romney echoed his statement in recent days that he’d expected such criticism to come from Democrats, not Republicans.

“It is strange,” Romney said. “Those that are calling themselves true conservatives ended up attacking venture capitalism and capitalism in general. It suggests a bit of a desperate time for some campaigns.”