- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 10, 2008

CHARLESTON, S.C. — Yesterday became line-in-the-sand day for Republicans, with Mitt Romney declaring that he is making his stand in next week’s Michigan primary and Fred Thompson saying South Carolina’s Jan. 19 primary is his do-or-die state.

Standing in their way is Sen. John McCain, who is feeling momentum from his Tuesday win in New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary and hopes to narrow the field by winning both states.

“This election here in South Carolina will play a major, major role,” the Arizona Republican told supporters at a rally at The Citadel in Charleston last night.

The two states present an interesting challenge for Mr. McCain — he lost South Carolina to Gov. George W. Bush in 2000, before rebounding to victory in Michigan and then running out of resources to compete in the later contests. This year, the calendar is reversed. Michigan goes first, followed four days later by South Carolina.

Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a McCain supporter, said voters in his state who earlier had tilted to former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani are coming back to Mr. McCain. Mr. McCain’s win in New Hampshire, he said, will only accelerate that shift because it answered the question of the Arizona senator’s viability, which had troubled South Carolina voters.

“The questions was ‘Has his time passed?” ” Mr. Graham said. “After New Hampshire, our phones were ringing off the hook.”

Mr. McCain visited Michigan and South Carolina yesterday in a whirlwind tour before tonight’s Republican debate, to be held in Myrtle Beach. That debate offers the final chance for Mr. Thompson, a former senator from Tennessee, and Mr. Romney, a former governor of Massachusetts, to try to gain needed attention.

Mr. Thompson’s campaign manager sent out an e-mail proclaiming their campaign “all-in” in South Carolina, and Mr. Thompson told reporters after a stop in Florence that he needs to be at the top here.

“I’m making my stand here,” he said, calling South Carolina the “gateway” state for the rest of the primary season.

Mr. Romney has pulled his advertising out of South Carolina to focus solely on Michigan, a state where his father was governor for six years and he himself grew up.

If Mr. Romney wins, his opponents will argue that was a natural result of his ties to the state. If he loses, it will be seen as a giant rejection.

Yesterday, Mr. Romney held a national fund-raising call in which campaign officials said he raised $1.5 million to use in the nominating contests. To kick off his campaign a year ago, Mr. Romney held a similar event, then raising $6.5 million.

The Associated Press reported that Mr. Romney assured his supporters that he will win Michigan and can also win Nevada’s Jan. 19 caucuses as well as South Carolina’s primary.

“It’s just getting started,” he said.

Mr. McCain won New Hampshire’s primary with 37 percent of the vote. Mr. Romney placed second with 31 percent — his second time in the runner-up spot after Iowa’s caucuses. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee followed his Iowa win with a third-place showing at 11 percent, and yesterday took aim at Mr. Thompson and Mr. Giuliani, two Republicans who trailed him in the northeastern state.

“Both of them should have had far better numbers,” Mr. Huckabee said.

Mr. Romney did win last weekend’s Wyoming nominating conventions, but none of the other candidates put significant effort into competing for those delegates.

In Michigan, the latest poll, taken before New Hampshire’s primary, showed Mr. Romney locked in a tight race with Mr. Huckabee for the lead, followed closely by Mr. McCain.

In South Carolina, Mr. Thompson has a bigger climb. Polls there have him in fourth place, with Mr. Huckabee in the lead, followed by Mr. McCain and Mr. Romney.

Mr. McCain’s challenge is to expand on his base of independents to try to win some of the core conservatives who are split among the other candidates.

A telling number from the exit polls from New Hampshire was Mr. McCain fared well among those who had reservations about the field. According to MSNBC’s exit polling, of the more than a third of Republican voters who had concerns about their choice, 46 percent went for Mr. McCain.

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