South Carolina: An Early Look Ahead

With last night's results part of history, the candidates and press turned very quickly to South Carolina, which the AP says "is shaping up to be a dogfight."

And the stakes are high: After winning New Hampshire, Mitt Romney became the first non-incumbent Republican to win the primary season's first two contests, so as Bloomberg puts it, South Carolina, which votes Jan. 21, may be the last chance opponents have to derail Romney.

NPR's Debbie Elliott told our Newscast unit that South Carolina has correctly picked the eventual candidate every time since 1980 and Romney is facing a more conservative electorate, which is being heavily courted by Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry and Rick Santorum.

"All candidates are campaigning in the state today," said Debbie. Romney will appear with Gov. Nikki Haley, who was elected with Tea Party support.

Catch up on the morning's developments with our "New Hampshire And Beyond" special elections podcast.

With 10 days to go, Bloomberg says the battle will be fierce. Romney is already facing tough ads about his days running Bain Capital, which Perry has painted as "vulture capitalists."

Here's a preview of the kinds of attacks you'll likely hear:

"Texas Governor Rick Perry, who will be making what may be his last stand in South Carolina, hit that theme at a town hall meeting yesterday in a Fort Mill retirement community.

"Companies such as Bain 'come in and loot people's jobs, loot their pensions, loot their ability to take care of their families,' Perry said. 'They're just vultures sitting out there on the tree limb waiting for the company to get sick. And then they swoop in, they eat the carcass, they leave with that, and they leave the skeleton.'

NPR's senior Washington editor Ron Elving has a look at the similarities between the Bain attacks on Romney and the notorious Willie Horton attack ads used against another Masschusetts governor, Michael Dukakis, in 1988. And also here on It's All Politics, Frank James examines South Carolina's history of choosing the eventual nominee.

We'll leave you with some other headlines that look forward to South Carolina:

— Politico says Romney's South Carolina strategy is to "divide and conquer."

— If the polls are to be believed, it may prove a fortuitous move: A CNN/Time poll earlier this month found that Santorum and Gingrich were splitting the vote and leaving Romney with a sizable lead.

— "A rougher tone and a tougher ideological terrain await" Romney, writes the AP.

— ABC News takes a look at Evangelical voters in South Carolina, which they say may be more important to Santorum than they were in his surprising showing in Iowa.

— Will Perry's Southern roots help him in the Palmetto State? The Washington Post says he's counting on it and eating some grits to send the message that "I'm one of you."

Talking Points Memo talks to the South Carolina GOP chair, who said its primary will be the 2012 "reset button."

"Our voters are fiercely independent and pretty fickle," GOP Chair Chad Connelly told TPM. "They watch what happens in Iowa, they watch what happens in New Hampshire. They may take that under advisement kind of thing, but they're going to make their own decisions."

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