(Updates with Romney, Haley and Gingrich comments starting in ninth paragraph.)
Dec. 17 (Bloomberg) -- Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney courted Republican primary voters in South Carolina with rallies and his first campaign ads in the state, which holds the third contest in the 2012 Republican nominating race.
South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, a Republican, has endorsed Romney and appeared with him for a second day. Her state’s primary next month, after Iowa and New Hampshire, has influenced the outcome nominations before: Victories there by George W. Bush in 2000 and John McCain in 2008 made them favorites to become the Republican presidential candidate.
“I need your vote,” Romney said at a town hall meeting today in Charleston, South Carolina. “I want to win in South Carolina,” he told reporters yesterday after a rally at a firehouse near Greenville with Haley.
Romney is bolstering his effort as former House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia, who has said South Carolina is crucial to his chances of winning the nomination, leads opinion polls. South Carolina’s primary is Jan. 21. The Iowa caucuses are Jan. 3, and the New Hampshire primary is Jan. 10.
“I’ve always thought that once we get to South Carolina and Florida, I could begin to win the race decisively,” Gingrich said Dec. 15 in an interview on Iowa Public Television.
A Dec. 4-6 poll by NBC News and the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion in Poughkeepsie, New York, showed Gingrich leading Romney in South Carolina, 41 percent to 21 percent. Gingrich had 6 percent in an October 11-13 NBC-Marist survey, which had businessman Herman Cain ahead of Romney, 30 percent to 26 percent.
Romney criticized Gingrich, a former House speaker who stayed in Washington, telling reporters in Charleston that voters “want people outside Washington coming in to change Washington.” He said his background would be more appealing to anti-tax, small-government Tea Party supporters than Gingrich, who spent two decades in the U.S. House.
“On the issues of the day, I line up pretty well with the Tea Partyers,” Romney said.
Haley, who was elected last year with backing Tea Party activists, sounded a similar theme.
“I didn’t want to endorse anyone who had anything to with Washington,” Haley said during her appearance at a town hall meeting with Romney in Myrtle Beach.
Asked today if Gingrich was a lobbyist, Romney said, “I’m going to let the lawyers decide what is and what isn’t lobbying, but when it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, typically it’s a duck.” Gingrich was paid $1.6 million in consulting fees by Freddie Mac, the government-backed mortgage company, after he left Congress.
Suggested More Regulation
Gingrich, speaking to Iowa supporters on a conference call, said he “never once advocated that people do something for Fannie or Freddie” and that he “actually suggested they needed more regulations.”
“We were paid annually for six years, so the numbers you see are six years of work,” he said. “Most of that money went to pay for overhead, for staff, for other things that didn’t go directly to me.”
Romney has drawn enthusiastic crowds on this trip. Organizers had to close the doors at a Greenville firehouse because they reached capacity, and the extra chairs they brought in weren’t enough for the standing room-only audience in Myrtle Beach.
‘I Can Win’
“I can win,” Romney said in Charleston, where he was the latest Republican candidate to appear with freshman Representative Tim Scott, who is neutral so far. Romney cited his business experience, saying “those years in the private sector helped me understand how the economy works. That kind of experience is what America is looking for.”
The former governor’s first campaign ad mentions how he has been married to the same woman for 42 years, a contrast with the thrice-married Gingrich.
Romney, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter- Day Saints, didn’t talk about his religion. In October, Romney called on rival Rick Perry to denounce comments by a supporter, a Baptist minister, who likened the Mormon religion to a “cult.” Last week, Gingrich dismissed an Iowa campaign aide for calling Mormonism a “cult” during a voter focus group. South Carolina is a state with a large evangelical Christian community.
Haley, the daughter of Indian immigrants and a convert to Christianity, said her election shows that Romney’s Mormon religion won’t be an obstacle to his efforts to win over South Carolina Republicans.
“Whatever a person’s faith is, that’s not going to be an issue with my constituents,” she said.
--With assistance from John McCormick in Des Moines, Iowa. Editors: Ann Hughey, Christian Thompson.
To contact the reporter on this story: Jonathan D. Salant in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Silva at email@example.com.