Ahead Of Primary, Romney Campaigns In S.C.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney campaigned in South Carolina Wednesday, just days ahead of Saturday's primary. Audie Cornish talks with NPR's Scott Horsley for more.


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Audie Cornish.

South Carolina holds its presidential primary Saturday. And polls released today show that Mitt Romney continues to run ahead of the Republican pack, but his lead is narrowing, and Newt Gingrich appears to gaining ground.

NPR's Scott Horsley has been following Romney as he travels around South Carolina. And he joins us now from Rock Hill. Hello, Scott. Can you tell us is Romney hearing footsteps behind him?

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Well, Audie, he may be. You know, Romney typically keeps his eyes on the finish line and leaves it to surrogates to go after his primary rivals. But today in South Carolina, some of the attacks on Newt Gingrich came out of Romney's own mouth. He mocked Gingrich for saying during a debate here the other night that as a congressman, Gingrich had helped lay the groundwork for millions of new jobs in America.

Government doesn't create jobs. It's the private sector that creates jobs.


MITT ROMNEY: Congressman taking responsibility or taking credit for helping create jobs is like Al Gore taking credit for the Internet.


HORSLEY: The Romney campaign has also been aggressive today with emails and conference calls attacking the former House speaker. So even though polls suggest he still has the lead here, it seems Romney is trying to close off any last-minute surge by Gingrich.

CORNISH: And, of course, Newt Gingrich has been pretty aggressive in knocking Mitt Romney. Is it actually having any effect?

HORSLEY: That's right. Gingrich has been trying to rally conservative voters behind him, saying if Romney is the nominee, he won't be able to draw the same kind of contrast with President Obama.

The polling suggests Gingrich may have taken a little support away from Rick Santorum. But in general conservatives still seem to be splitting their votes. And I have to say, Romney drew a respectable crowd today in Spartanburg, a fairly conservative part of the state, so he may be winning folks over. While I was there, a supporter gave me a bag of Grits for Mitt...


HORSLEY: ...which is a, I guess one sign of Southern acceptance. On the other hand, when I got back to my car after that rally, I found a flyer on the windshield saying: Romney is not a trusted conservative. An unsigned flier, I should say. So that's the bare-knuckle politics we come to expect here in South Carolina.

CORNISH: So how much of what you're hearing in South Carolina is intra-party squabbling? I mean, are Republicans managing to keep an eye on President Obama?

HORSLEY: Yes. Even as they duke it out amongst themselves, the Republicans tend to reserve most of their punches for the incumbent. That's certainly true of Mitt Romney. And President Obama gave the GOP another opening today when his administration formally rejected that controversial Keystone pipeline that would've linked Canada to the Gulf Coast.

In a written statement, Romney said that decision showed a lack of seriousness about bringing down unemployment, and he accused the president of kowtowing to environmentalists in his political base. Now, of course, in its own defense, the White House says it was congressional Republicans who put such a tight timeline on the Keystone decision that there was really no way for the State Department to conduct a thorough environmental review.

CORNISH: NPR's Scott Horsley. He's traveling with Mitt Romney in South Carolina. Thanks so much, Scott.

HORSLEY: You're welcome, Audie.

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