The battle for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination shifts to the U.S. state of South Carolina on Saturday. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney is hoping for a third straight victory in the South Carolina primary after earlier wins in the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary. But Romney’s Republican rivals are hoping to at least slow him down.
South Carolina public opinion
Mitt Romney leads in the latest public opinion surveys from South Carolina, and experts say a victory in Saturday’s primary on the heels of wins in Iowa and New Hampshire would be a giant step toward securing the Republican nomination.
Romney continues to focus most of his attention on President Barack Obama’s record in office.
“It has been a tough time," he said. " And this president - he has run out of ideas and now he is running out of excuses. In 2012, he is going to run out of time. We are getting rid of him!”
Rivals look for turnaround
Romney’s Republican rivals are well aware that the South Carolina contest might be their best chance to stop or at least slow down his march toward the nomination.
Former U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Newt Gingrich is hoping for a rebound in South Carolina, after weak finishes in Iowa and New Hampshire.
Gingrich is trying to rally conservative voters to his campaign.
“I think it is very hard for a moderate to defeat Obama because I think you need [ideological] space in order to overcome the billion dollar negative campaign,” he said.
Gingrich continues to battle for conservative support with former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum and Texas Governor Rick Perry.
Santorum is hoping for a comeback on Saturday, after a poor finish in last week’s New Hampshire primary.
“This is a race where the people are going to speak," said Santorum. "And there is going to be a big surprise in South Carolina on Saturday.”
Perry is hoping to recharge his White House hopes in South Carolina by appealing to conservative Christian voters, who often wield influence in southern primaries.
Gingrich and Paul
Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney; former House Speaker Newt Gingrich; and Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas take part in the South Carolina Republican presidential candidate debate in Myrtle Beach, S.C, January 16, 2012.
Texas Representative Ron Paul is also competing in South Carolina.
Romney continues to benefit from the fact that his four remaining rivals are splitting the votes of Republicans looking to nominate a more conservative candidate.
“I think the reason why Romney is so close to wrapping this up is that the conservative base doesn’t have a candidate," said Allan Lichtman, a presidential scholar at American University here in Washington. "They have had six candidates, and they have all fallen on their faces.”
Pollster Frank Newport of the Gallup organization says Romney’s early victories have established him as the favorite to win the Republican nomination.
“He is getting 37 percent of the vote nationally - 23 points ahead of his nearest competitor nationally," said Newport. "History shows that the Republican candidate who is ahead after New Hampshire in the modern era of primaries has always gone on to win the nomination. So history says he will be the nominee, Romney.”
But some experts are predicting a late surge in South Carolina by Gingrich, following a strong debate performance earlier in the week.
A Romney victory in South Carolina would be significant. Since 1980, every Republican candidate who has won the South Carolina primary has gone on to win the party’s presidential nomination.