COLUMBIA, S.C. — Fresh off his win in New Hampshire, Mitt Romney arrived in South Carolina on Wednesday sounding ever more like the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, launching straight into an attack on President Obama.
Campaigning with South Carolina Gov. Nikki R. Haley, Mr. Romney said Mr. Obama is in “over his head” and promised to draw stark contrasts on the economy and spending in what is increasingly looking like the general election matchup.
“If you look at what he’s on track to do by the end of his first term — and his only term, by the way — he will have put together as much public debt, almost, as all of the prior presidents combined,” Mr. Romney said.
Mr. Romney and most of the rest of the field decamped from New Hampshire overnight and flew to South Carolina, where the Jan. 21 primary is looming as the critical showdown for values voters who are looking for an alternative to Mr. Romney.
Other candidates in the field dismissed the New Hampshire results, saying that state is considered part of the political backyard of Massachusetts, where Mr. Romney served a term as governor.
“All of that is really a prelude to what’s going to happen here in South Carolina. We feel like this is a place that the field is wide open,” former Sen. Rick Santorum said as he hit the ground in Ridgeway, a small town north of the capital city of Columbia.
Mr. Santorum promised to do more events than any other candidate, and to touch every county in the state in the run-up to the primary.
That strategy helped propel him to a near-win in Iowa’s caucuses on Jan. 3, though it’s not clear how well it translates to this state and the rest of the calendar, where television ads and mass appeals play an ever-larger role than the personal contact that rules in Iowa.
For his part, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich struggled to try to find the right tone in attacking Mr. Romney.
He began the day in Rock Hill, near the North Carolina border, gathering children around his feet in a scene he acknowledged seemed more appropriate for a church than for a campaign event.
“I’m frankly pretty fed up with the whole tone of American politics and American government,” he said.
Mr. Gingrich has spent the last couple of days attacking Mr. Romney for his time at Bain Capital, a venture capital firm that bought and sold companies, oftentimes leading to job losses as it tried to streamline businesses.
On Wednesday in Rock Hill, Mr. Gingrich did not repeat the attacks, but defended his right to make them.
“Criticizing specific actions in specific places is not being anti-free enterprise,” he said. “And crony capitalism, where people pay each other off at the expense of the rest of the country, is not free enterprise.”
He did not say he was accusing Mr. Romney of that, though.