Romney Takes On Obama Jobs Initiative In S.C.

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney travels to South Carolina. Melissa Block talks to NPR's Ari Shapiro.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And the president is facing criticism for that appointment from Republican presidential candidates. One of them, Mitt Romney, jetted today from New Hampshire down to sunny South Carolina, that, even though the New Hampshire primary is less than a week away. Romney spoke this afternoon in Charleston to an audience outdoors at a historical park. He took issue with one of President Obama's jobs initiatives.

MITT ROMNEY: You know, the president said that he wants to favor green jobs. I think we misunderstood. What he wants to do is give jobs to people who give him the green. The...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

BLOCK: NPR's Ari Shapiro joins us from the site of that rally. And, Ari, it sounds like Mitt Romney is already thinking ahead to the primary after New Hampshire's, the one in South Carolina.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: Absolutely. It's a sign of his confidence in New Hampshire that he came down here less than a week before the New Hampshire primary. He's been leading consistently in polls in New Hampshire. He spent so much time there that his campaign feels confident that he has that state in the bag. But South Carolina is a very different story because voters here tend to be more religious. They tend to be more conservative. They tend to be skeptical of a Massachusetts governor, let alone somebody who is Mormon.

And so there is some sign that Romney may be able to pull it out here, the way he pulled it out in Iowa, and that accounts for his spending some of the time here. He's doing this event tonight and then another one tomorrow morning before he returns to New Hampshire.

BLOCK: What about the other candidates, Ari? We've been seeing a trend of sharpened attacks on Mitt Romney. Is that continuing today?

SHAPIRO: Yeah. Absolutely. Let me give you a quick rundown of what we heard today. So from Newt Gingrich, he said Romney will not come anywhere near enough voters per state to become the nominee. Rick Santorum, who is now Romney's chief rival, urged people not to settle for less than America needs. You've got Jon Huntsman who is trying to make New Hampshire his stronghold. He said we cannot afford to have a coronation for president. But for Romney's part, as you heard in that cut in the intro, he kept his focus on President Obama.

He called the president, today, a crony capitalist, and his campaign just released an ad in South Carolina that attacks President Obama. The one exception to that is one of the guys that Romney brought with him down here to Charleston. Senator John McCain of Arizona attacked Rick Santorum, letting Romney keep his focus on the president, while the surrogates do the work with Republican primary rivals.

BLOCK: And South Carolina, also a strong military state, where presumably John McCain would bring in some votes for Mitt Romney. You mentioned that it's a very obviously different state than New Hampshire where he's polling very well. What's his strategy for trying to get a win in South Carolina?

SHAPIRO: Well, some of it does have to do with those surrogates. As you mentioned, John McCain, he's very helpful with the military voters. This is a strong military state. Mitt Romney also brought South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, who introduced herself very definitively as a strong conservative, trying to address the concerns that Mitt Romney may not be a strong conservative. Romney talked about his foreign policy today, appealing to those military voters, talked about his belief in a strong defense.

Of course, this comes just as President Obama is rolling out his plans to cut the Pentagon's budget. And then, you know, Nikki Haley was also a Tea Party favorite, the governor of South Carolina, and so she's trying to give him some credibility on that front.

BLOCK: And any sense of how Mitt Romney is doing at winning over those more skeptical conservative voters in South Carolina?

SHAPIRO: I think he's got some distance to go. A lot of the voters that I talked to here said they were not here because they were Romney supporters. They were here because they wanted to hear the guy. They wanted to give him a fair shake. They wanted to give him a chance. Totally different from what you hear when you talk to voters in New Hampshire who say they know the guy, they love the guy, they feel like the guy is neighbor. He's been in Massachusetts forever.

You know, there have been so many accusations, not only from Democrats, but also from Republicans, now intensifying from Republicans, about flip-flopping, about the moderate record in Massachusetts, about the health care bill that Mitt Romney passed that's so similar to President Obama's federal health care bill.

All of those attacks have done some damage. Perhaps it's not enough to derail Romney's getting the nomination in the end, but it does seem to have been enough to put some serious questions in the minds of the voters here in South Carolina.

BLOCK: OK. NPR's Ari Shapiro in Charleston, traveling with the Romney campaign. Ari, thanks very much.

SHAPIRO: Good to talk to you, Melissa.

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