GOP Candidates Try To Woo S.C. Conservative Voters

With South Carolina's primary five days away, Republican presidential candidates directed their message to conservative voters in the state. Over the weekend Rick Santorum got the backing of a national group of evangelical leaders, and he's trying to parlay that into votes in the Palmetto State.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Rick Santorum is hoping to get some traction from his endorsement by evangelical leaders this past weekend.

NPR's Kathy Lohr visited some churches in South Carolina to talk to those who make up more than half of the likely primary voters in this state.

KATHY LOHR, BYLINE: Rick Santorum earned national headlines when he won the support of a group of more than 150 national evangelical leaders this weekend. But here in South Carolina, where voters go to the polls in just five days, Santorum still remains relatively unknown. The establishment, including Governor Nikki Haley, backs former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.

JACKIE HANSON: Good morning. I'm Jackie Hanson.

TAYLOR SCOFIELD: Nice to meet you. I'm Taylor Scofield.

LOHR: On a crisp morning, Jackie Hanson greets members of the Overbrook Baptist Church in Greenville. She works in customer service for an insurance company and says this year's election is unique.

HANSON: No one has popped out as the strongest candidate, and I think that's what most people are worried about.

LOHR: Troubling to you?

HANSON: Very, very, extremely troubling. And, of course, praying about it more and, you know, hoping God will guide me to the right decision.

LOHR: Hanson says faith is important, but she says she wants to elect someone who will work with Congress. Glenn Robinson is a computer technician, and he says he's not likely to pay much attention to the recent evangelical support for Santorum because...

GLENN ROBINSON: I don't know how many others are in the same boat I am. I don't even know who he is.

LOHR: Robinson works for Lockheed Martin, and he's worried about the economy. South Carolina's unemployment rate is close to 10 percent. He says there are just too many candidates, that the GOP should get behind one who can win.

ROBINSON: We don't have that unity saying we need to back this person. This is the person that can lead us into the next four years and bring us a little more positive outcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LOHR: A couple miles away at St. Matthew United Methodist Church, the late service begins with a hymn.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Singing) Holy Father, Holy Son.

LOHR: Some here say Romney is likely to get their vote - among them, Betty Davis, a retired nursing professor. She describes herself as a moderate Republican, and says she realizes Romney doesn't appeal to all in her party, but she thinks he can win.

BETTY DAVIS: I'm still leaning towards Romney, because I think he's overall the strongest candidate in terms of acceptance - maybe not to the more conservative Republicans, but overall, I'm leaning that way.

LOHR: Davis says she's tired of the negative campaign ads which hit the air here in the past couple of weeks. She says they're just causing more confusion.

DAVIS: Again, you hear something and you have to decide and go back and try to figure out from what you've read or what you see or hear, whether it's really true or not, what has been said about that candidate. But all of the ads are turning me off, for the most part.

LOHR: And Mark Barnett, a salesman for a packaging company, says he's still undecided.

MARK BARNETT: Honestly, I have a lot more research to do before I make my decision. So I'm kind of procrastinating here, so.

LOHR: What do you have to hear?

BARNETT: I honestly don't know. It's just, you know...

LOHR: What would sway you?

BARNETT: Yeah, I'm not sure.

LOHR: With the primary coming up Saturday, voters here say they hope two GOP debates this week will help them make up their minds. Kathy Lohr, NPR News, Greenville, South Carolina.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And as we await those debates, we are also awaiting today's announcement from presidential candidate Jon Huntsman. He's expected any moment to announce that he's ending his campaign and throwing his support to Mitt Romney. So we have some consolidation, here, in the race with Huntsman throwing his support behind Romney. Evangelicals, as we've heard today, putting their support - trying to put their support - behind Rick Santorum, who is continuing to campaign in the South Carolina primary coming up on Saturday.

Santorum, by the way, is now accusing Mitt Romney - a political action committee backing Romney - of lying about his record. He's accusing him of a smear campaign. This relates to ads having to do with voting rights for felons in Pennsylvania. And there's going to continue to be some fierce campaigning in the days before this South Carolina vote. Of course, the Florida primary comes afterward. We'll continue to bring more as we learn it.

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