It didn’t take long after arriving in Charleston, South Carolina on Friday night to understand that I was walking right back into the center of the political universe. After giving the gentleman at the rental car place my TheIowaRepublican.com email address, he looked up and said, “Shoot, I need to get another suburban for the Romney campaign.” A little while later, Ann Romney and an aide arrived at the airport.
In Iowa, people put yard signs in their yards. In South Carolina they randomly place them at intersections and along the roads. As one would expect, television sets are full of campaign ads. Pro-Romney, anti-Romney, anti-Gingrich, anti-Santorum, and pro-Santorum ads are what you see when you watch Fox News or an NFL playoff game. After parking in a downtown Charleston ramp, I returned to see a hot pink flier that compared Mitt Romney quotes to quotes from gay activists like Harvey Milk. The flyer was paid for by American Bridge 21st Century.
On Saturday morning I attended the taping of the Huckabee forum. Doors were to open at 11 a.m., but by 10 a.m. the line stretched for blocks and they began to let people in. It was an interesting event, but the South Carolinians I stood in line with or sat next too could not have been nicer. Having the ability to chat about the race for the next three hours or so with some locals was a real treat. The retired couple I sat next to was very engaged politically, but still remained undecided, although they leaned towards Romney.
It is clear that Romney has the wind at his back after his big New Hampshire primary win, but there seems to be something that is still holding some people up. While I’ve only been here a few days, I think what Romney lacks is a personal connection with the voters.
Thoughts on the Huckabee forum.
Mitt Romney: Calm, cool, collected. Romney looked and sounded just like you would expect a frontrunner to look and sound. His answers were solid, but he once again lacked charisma. I thought he came off more rehearsed than polished.
Jon Huntsman: I thought the Huckabee forum was one of Huntsman’s better performances. It is yet to be seen how well he will do in South Carolina. Reports are even now coming in that Huntsman may drop out Monday morning.
Newt Gingrich: The big news from the forum was that the audience booed Gingrich. He hadn’t even gotten out Romney’s entire name than the audience began to respond. Gingrich’s problem is that he has been defined as a negative campaigner by going after Romney’s business career. People seem predisposed to like Gingrich in South Carolina since he is from the neighboring state of Georgia, but his campaign has turned some people off. The crowd of 700 or so undecided’s indicated that when they booed.
Rick Santorum: In his typical laid back style, he was the only candidate not to wear a suit at the forum, and it seemed to work. He was given amble opportunities to talk about his tax and jobs plan, which was a benefit to him. Santorum seems to be in a similar situation to that in which he found himself one week out from the caucuses. Once again he seems to be on the move.
Rick Perry: Perry did the best job of any candidate in interweaving local issues into his answers. Multiple candidates talked about National Labor Relations Board’s attempt to block Boeing from expanding its operations in South Carolina because it is a right to work state, but Perry also mentioned a photo ID law in South Carolina that is being challenged in the courts.
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