GOP Candidates Turn Focus To S.C. Primary

GOP candidates Ron Paul, Jon Huntsman and Rick Santorum all show up in Columbia, S.C., for the next primary. For more, Audie Cornish talks to NPR's Brian Naylor.

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And I'm Audie Cornish. Fresh out of New Hampshire, one by one, the Republican presidential candidates landed today in South Carolina. It holds the next primary January 21st, and it's the first Southern state to vote. Mitt Romney got off to an enthusiastic start, speaking to supporters in the capitol, Columbia.

MITT ROMNEY: It's so warm outside. This is different than New Hampshire. I got to tell you, it's going to be great campaigning in the Palmetto State. What an honor...

CORNISH: Mitt Romney is the man to beat, so NPR's Brian Naylor has been paying close attention to how Romney's challengers spent the day in South Carolina. Hello, Brian.

BRIAN NAYLOR, BYLINE: Hi, Audie.

CORNISH: So, you were at a Jon Huntsman event today. And he, of course, finished third last night in New Hampshire. He went all out. He's pretty much out of money. What's next for Huntsman?

NAYLOR: It's not clear, Audie, exactly what he hopes to accomplish here in South Carolina. As you mentioned, he's got no money to speak of, no organization in the state to speak of, but he intends to continue to campaign. He appeared at a rally, at a more of a classroom lecture setting at the University of South Carolina's business school, talking about his message of restoring trust in government. You know, he hopes to get the so-called earned or free media from appearances before cameras and hopes to get on the news.

He said today that South Carolina voters don't want to be told by the establishment what to do. I think by the establishment he means, presumably, South Carolina's governor, Nikki Haley, who endorsed Mitt Romney. And I think he, you know, intends to hang in here at least through South Carolina, by all accounts, as a possible alternative to Mitt Romney.

CORNISH: What did you see today from the second place finisher from New Hampshire, Ron Paul?

NAYLOR: Well, another enthusiastic rally at an airport hangar. I've been to a couple of these. This one wasn't quite as filled as an earlier hangar appearance in New Hampshire, but still, there were a lot of enthusiastic banner-holding supporters. He, you know, got a pretty good reception, a lot of enthusiasm as you can hear in this little tape bite.

RON PAUL: We thought we had sent out a pretty positive message out of Iowa. I think we sent out a pretty positive message last night out of New Hampshire. And I think South Carolina is next on the list.

NAYLOR: So, he intends to soldier on with his smaller government rhetoric, which is popular and will likely go over well in South Carolina. But he also talks, you know, about bringing troops home from bases overseas and that may be a tougher sell in South Carolina, frankly, because there are a lot of bases here. There's a large military presence and it's not clear whether that part of his message is going to go over well.

CORNISH: What about in terms of resources? How positioned is Ron Paul for the next round of primaries?

NAYLOR: Well, I think he's got money. There have been ads on TV from his campaign and also from a Super PAC supporting him. So he'll be able to get his message out. He's got an organization here, probably not as extensive as the one he had in Iowa or New Hampshire. And then, from South Carolina, it's a little unclear. There's been talk that he may skip Florida, which is the next primary at the end of the month, and move on to later primaries because Florida is such an expensive media market.

And he may go to places - focus on places like Nevada, where presumably they're more receptive to his libertarian appeal.

CORNISH: Brian, now that you've spent some time in South Carolina, what do you see there when you turn on your TV, lots of ads?

NAYLOR: Lots and lots and lots of ads. There's been talk of different campaigns and Super PACs spending millions of dollars and buying thousands of TV ads. And it's already starting to show up some ten days in advance of the primary here. This is one ad I've seen a lot of. It's from the campaign of Newt Gingrich and it takes direct aim at Mitt Romney and his differing positions on abortion. Here's a little of that ad.

(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL COMMERCIAL)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN 1: Romney appointed a pro-abortion judge, expanded access to abortion pills, put Planned Parenthood on a state medical board, but failed to put a pro-life group on the same board. And Romney signed government-mandated health care with taxpayer funded abortions. Massachusetts moderate, Mitt Romney, he can't be trusted.

NEWT GINGRICH: I'm Newt Gingrich and I approve this message.

NAYLOR: And what's most interesting, Audie, is that ad is directly from the Gingrich campaign and most campaigns don't like to do negative ads.

CORNISH: NPR's Brian Naylor, speaking with us from Columbia, South Carolina. Thanks, Brian.

NAYLOR: Thank you, Audie.

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