Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney won’t be on stage for a conservative GOP forum organized by tea party favorite Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), a move that is likely to be seen by some in the Palmetto State as a snub.
An aide to Romney, who has been dethroned as the GOP presidential nomination front-runner in recent polls by Texas Gov. Rick Perry, said the former Massachusetts governor will spend time in New Hampshire instead but is not ignoring South Carolina, a crucial early primary state.
“He will be in South Carolina enough to show that he is the best candidate to beat [President] Obama on jobs and the economy,” said spokeswoman Andrea Saul, adding that Romney will probably campaign in the state in September.
Romney visited the state a few times as a prospective candidate, but not since he announced his candidacy in June. His wife campaigned there in July.
He did not attend the first debate in South Carolina in May and has mainly focused on New Hampshire, where he has a vacation home.
In contrast, Perry launched his campaign in South Carolina, which has a record of picking the eventual nominee that goes back to 1980. Perry will appear at the Columbia forum, along with former pizza executive Herman Cain, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.) and former House speaker Newt Gingrich.
DeMint is a conservative kingmaker in South Carolina and appeared at the gathering where Perry announced his candidacy. The senator backed Romney in 2008 but has yet to give him anything other than tepid support more recently.
At issue is Romney’s record on health care; DeMint has said that he would not endorse the GOP candidate unless he disavowed his health-care plan in Massachusetts.
For his part, Romney has embraced DeMint, signing his “Cut, Cap, and Balance” pledge on the federal debt. Romney also gave money to the campaign of Gov. Nikki Haley (R-S.C.), another tea party favorite.
In 2008, Romney spent heavily in South Carolina only to come in third in the state primary. Perry and Bachmann are expected to do well there, while Romney could struggle because of his more moderate views and his Mormon faith, which is a concern to some of the state’s evangelical Christian voters.
“In 2008 you couldn’t walk across the street without seeing Romney, but then he pulled out and I don’t think he wants to come back here,” said David Woodard, a South Carolina GOP consultant and professor at Clemson University. “He doesn’t have any foundation here to build on and he doesn’t have a strong cultural base here, there are a lot of things he would have to work real hard on, but he just isn’t here at all now.”