Mitt Romney greets supporters at the end of a campaign rally in Charleston, S.C., on Thursday.
Mitt Romney greets supporters at the end of a campaign rally in Charleston, S.C., on Thursday. Frank James/NPR
Why is Mitt Romney, who finished fourth in South Carolina's 2008 Republican presidential primary, now seemingly on course to win the the 2012 version of that contest (at least if the latest CNN poll is any indicator?)
One word: electability. That argument, which Romney has made the entire campaign, appears to be finally taking hold as his rivals, one after the other, have proven to be political Roman candles — quick, flashy ascents, then burn out.
At a Romney campaign rally Thursday in Charleston at the scenic Charles Towne Landing state park, it was fairly clear from talking to some in the crowd that when push comes to shove, Republicans' top criterion is choosing a nominee who can go toe to toe with an incumbent president known to be a deft campaigner.
In other words, Republicans appear to be well on their way toward deciding to do precisely what Obama and Democrats thought they would, which is why Democrats have been targeting Romney for months.
Brent Morocco, 52, of nearby Mount Pleasant, S.C., who has worked in real estate for 26 years, told me that, like many Republicans, he had initially liked Texas Gov. Rick Perry. But we all know how that turned out.
So after hearing Romney at a town hall held by Rep. Tim Scott of South Carolina, Morocco decided on Romney.
"I think Mitt Romney has the best fighting machine to win the nomination. And I think people want to stay with a winner. And I think Mitt Romney is that guy as of right now, unless something different happens between now and the 21st ...
"I think you have to find out who's the most electable to go against the current administration. Electability is really high, as well as background. He has run businesses, he has run the Olympics, he has run a state ..."
You hear that a lot from South Carolina Republicans. Romney has the money, the organization, the experience to wage the most effective campaign against President Obama.
Beth Plante of Charleston, a Realtor aged 40-plus, said having the wind at his back from wins in Iowa and New Hampshire could give Romney the momentum it would take to win South Carolina this time around.
"I think as people see him win in other states, that will boost him up," she said. In politics, winning tends to beget winning.
"I like Santorum. Nobody liked him other than me" in her circle, she said.
"But I said, 'He's probably not electable.' I like this guy," she said, motioning toward Romney, who before leaving the rally was a few feet away, shaking hands, signing autographs, talking to supporters and looking, well, electable.