ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
GUY RAZ, HOST:
And I'm Guy Raz. We're going to start this hour by hearing from voters in the state that will play an important role in deciding the Republican presidential candidate: South Carolina. It is a Republican stronghold with a strongly conservative voting base, and it's one of the first places voters will get to weigh in on the candidates. South Carolina's primary is January 21st. Our co-host Melissa Block has been in Spartanburg, South Carolina, this week, listening to what's on Republican voters' minds.
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
If you're going to win hearts and minds in the Palmetto State, why not aim right where it counts - with food.
ANITA PERRY: I love South Carolina - ham and grits. I'm that kind of girl, and I think I could live here, too.
BLOCK: That's Texas Governor Rick Perry's wife, Anita, a former nurse, at a luncheon in Spartanburg yesterday. She took some jabs at the record of President Obama.
PERRY: Our debt is more than $14 trillion and climbing. I had to look up what a trillion was.
BLOCK: And if you think Rick Perry is looking over his shoulder wondering how Herman Cain stole his thunder, you got that sense from Perry's wife, too.
PERRY: As a health care professional, when I hear 9-9-9, I want to call 9-1-1 because it will raise the taxes.
BLOCK: On Tuesday night, the Spartanburg County Republican Women held their monthly meeting over dinner, and member Mary Anne Riley urged her friends to join in prayer sessions for the country.
MARY ANNE RILEY: Look, we really need help here. And sometimes, it's nice to get together, maybe a breakfast. You can sit there, and you can say your prayers or maybe have a cup of coffee or something like that.
BLOCK: After dinner, I talked with the group's treasurer, Jane Johnson.
JANE JOHNSON: I think we're in big trouble. We're bankrupt economically, morally, ethically. I mean, just turn the TV on and see what has happened to our civilization. And just as God protected the Israelites, I think he can either protect this country or he can destroy this country.
BLOCK: As for the Republican candidates, Johnson says she knows and likes Newt Gingrich, thinks he's intelligent and doesn't put up with nonsense. Her second favorite is Herman Cain. She thinks Washington needs a good business person.
JOHNSON: Perry bothers me, just a gut-level feeling, I guess. Romney is maybe not as conservative as I would like for him to be.
BLOCK: At a gathering of the Spartanburg Chamber of Commerce, I meet Donna Simpson, who says she admires Herman Cain's plain-spokenness and practicality, along with his business experience. Simpson does marketing and P.R. for an assisted-living center. She's deeply disturbed by the health care overhaul and what it means for business.
DONNA SIMPSON: I've attended some seminars where supposed experts from maybe Medicare and different organizations have come to speak and they've just thrown their hands up and said who knows?
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
SIMPSON: We can't give you any direction, probably more so than you already know right now because we really don't know what's coming down the pike. So it's just left everyone in a bad state.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TOOT, TOOT, TOOTSIE")
PALMETTO STATESMEN BARBERSHOP CHORUS: (Singing) Kiss me, Tootsie, and then do it over again.
BLOCK: I stop in at a rehearsal of the Palmetto Statesmen Barbershop Chorus.
ROBERT E. LEE: You're in the South down here, where you're in the Bible Belt. They say don't get religion into politics. That's like saying don't get our lives into it because that's who we are and what we are.
BLOCK: That's Robert E. Lee, who sings lead. I sit down to talk with him and some other singers, all of them engineers, as it turns out; all but one retired. All vote Republican. And Jon Bane says he thinks his party has a problem with electability.
JON BANE: Any party that would nominate John McCain to run for the presidency has got a problem. We don't pick our best candidates. Let's face it, we do not.
MARTIN HILL: There is at this point, really, no candidate that just stands out for me. Herman Cain probably comes the closest.
BLOCK: This is Martin Hill, who says he has trouble with Mitt Romney.
HILL: The issue of him being a Mormon is not so much to me as it is just knowing what he's done as governor of Massachusetts.
BLOCK: Anything about health care?
HILL: Health care is one in particular.
BLOCK: Hill goes on to say he'd prefer to see a Christian in the White House, and Robert Lee jumps in to follow up on that.
LEE: I think we - you hear down here talking about a Christian, we talk about those who follow the Nicene Creed, and the Mormons do not follow the Nicene Creed.
BLOCK: Lee says he's a big fan of Michele Bachmann.
LEE: I hate to say this. It's a shame that Bachmann is not a man. It'd be completely different.
LEE: Because I think that the politics would respect her more, and that's just a natural thing, the way it is. And I hate to see it.
BLOCK: So he's focusing on Herman Cain.
LEE: I believe he's a faith-based person, and I especially like his 9-9-9.
BLOCK: You like that?
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
LEE: I do. I like it clean cut. You pay nine. You pay nine. You pay your nine.
BLOCK: These men agree that the Republicans in power have lost their way. They've been fiscally irresponsible, not conservative enough.
HILL: Look, there are plenty of Republicans in Congress that could have long since stood up and done something about the circumstances we find ourselves in now. So I don't think it's fair to blame the Democrats necessarily for the situation.
LEE: Oh, (unintelligible).
HILL: As we say down South, amen, brother.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
BLOCK: Robert Lee and Martin Hill and the Palmetto Statesmen Barbershop Chorus.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
CHORUS: (Singing) ...(unintelligible) in your arms.
BLOCK: I'm Melissa block in Spartanburg, South Carolina.
CHORUS: It's great to be a barbershopper.