Out of the race for the White House, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney was in South Carolina yesterday to celebrate an important announcement: an endorsement from Governor Nikki Haley, just weeks before the South Carolina Republican primary. This marks the beginning of what the Romney campaign says will be an aggressive contest to win voters in a state that for three decades help identify who will be the Republican nominee.

North Carolina Public Radio's Jessica Jones has this report from a rally in Greenville, South Carolina.

JESSICA JONES, BYLINE: The Romney campaign staged this event at a capacious fire station that was so crowded the chief had to bar the door when the crowd reached 500 people.

Jubilant supporters waited for an hour and more to hear the news from Governor Haley herself. Looking out over a sea of supporters hoisting red, white and blue signs, Haley said Romney is exactly what a governor needs in a president.

GOVERNOR NIKKI HALEY: He's already a leader that knows what he wants to do the first day that he gets into office, and he's ready to do it.


HALEY: So it is with great pride, great respect and great support that Michael and I are very proud to say that we are endorsing Gov. Mitt Romney for president of the United States.


JONES: Haley says she likes Romney's experience in the business world and she likes his pledge to exempt South Carolina from the health care law known as Obamacare if he lands in the White House.

Four years ago, Romney spent millions of dollars in South Carolina only to finish a disappointing fourth. But he says if an upstart politician like Nikki Haley can succeed in South Carolina, so can he.

MITT ROMNEY: I watched her campaign. I remember she was number four in the polls and I'm planning that as you take a close look at all the presidential contenders - give 'em a good, you know, kick in the leg and get to know who they are - that you're going to end up supporting me for the next president of the United States.


JONES: Romney knows he still faces a tough uphill battle in South Carolina, with Iowa and New Hampshire a key early contest for the GOP nomination. Right now, Newt Gingrich is leading polls here. But Romney didn't even mention Gingrich last, focusing instead on President Obama.

ROMNEY: After he was inaugurated, he went on the "Today Show," and he said, you know, if I can't get this economy turned around in three years, I'll be looking at a one-term proposition. We're here to collect.


JONES: In order to get the Republican nomination though, Romney will have to cover a lot of ground in South Carolina, Iowa and New Hampshire in coming weeks.


JONES: Twenty-two-year-old Lauren Searcy was one of many supporters who came away with Romney's autograph last night. But even this backer thinks that Romney needs to be more visible if he wants to succeed.

LAUREN SEARCY: Just getting out and getting to know the people of South Carolina, like he was here tonight, you know, willing to shake hands, take pictures, sign autographs - do that more around South Carolina and get to know the people around here.

JONES: Some polls show Romney's Mormon religion is still a hurdle for evangelical voters in states like South Carolina, but Republican volunteer Jane Jones says she thinks Romney's religion is less of an issue than his patrician background.

JANE JONES: This reserved, well-mannered man, very polite, is just that. He's not being above somebody else, but it's being perceived as that. And that's where that's coming from.

JONES: Romney will continue is South Carolina swing today with stops in Charleston and Myrtle Beach. For NPR news, I'm Jessica Jones in Greenville, South Carolina

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