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Republican Nomination Race Heads South

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Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney is taking his presidential campaign to South Carolina, aiming to solidify his bid to secure the Republican nomination.

Romney kicks off his South Carolina campaign Wednesday fresh off a victory in Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary, winning 39 percent of the vote. Texas Congressman Ron Paul finished second with 23 percent while former U.S. ambassador to China Jon Huntsman placed third with 17 percent.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and ex-U.S. senator Rick Santorum finished in a virtual tie for fourth place, each winning just under 10 percent of the vote.

Political analysts, like Chris Galdieri at St. Anselms College say South Carolina’s January 21 primary could determine whether Romney’s Republican rivals will ever be able to mount a serious challenge.

“”To the extent that folks like Rick Santorum and Jon Huntsman were focusing all their attention on really early states like Iowa and New Hampshire, that was time and money and effort that they weren’t putting into South Carolina. So, everyone else who is not Romney is going to be playing catch-up and is going to have to explain why they came in second in one state and fifth in another and why they should be the alternative to Romney and that’s a really tough case to make.”

There was little doubt heading into Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary that Romney would emerge with the victory. But Republican political strategists like Michael Dennehy said there was still hope for the other candidates.

“If someone surprises, if someone comes in a strong second place then – as it was for Rick Santorum in Iowa – it is a perceived victory and will build huge momentum for that candidate going onto South Carolina and the other primary states. It’s really – second place becomes the gold medal in New Hampshire.”

Former U.S. ambassador to China, Jon Huntsman, is hoping his third place finish in New Hampshire will do exactly that, calling it “a ticket to ride.”

Huntsman, along with Texas Congressman Ron Paul, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and ex-U.S. senator Rick Santorum, all plan to campaign in South Carolina.

Texas Governor Rick Perry, who essentially skipped the New Hampshire primary, has already been campaigning heavily in South Carolina, hoping his message will resonate with conservative voters.

But Romney takes more than momentum victory to South Carolina. He also has the endorsement of the state’s Republican governor, Nikki Haley, a favorite of the conservative, grassroots Tea Party movement.

Even before the New Hampshire primary, polls of South Carolina voters showed Romney with an edge. One survey by Public Policy Polling found 27 percent of likely primary voters said they would support Romney, compared to 23 percent for Newt Gingrich and 18 percent for Ron Paul.

A polling-based forecast compiled before the New Hampshire primary by the New York Times also projects Romney winning in South Carolina with 32 percent of the vote.

Romney has been drawing intense criticism from some of his Republican rivals and Newt Gingrich supporters are set to unveil a series of harsh political ads designed to erode Romney’s support. But analysts say unless conservative voters who do not like Romney start to coalesce around a single candidate, Romney could very likely emerge as the candidate to challenge President Barack Obama in the general election.

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