- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 11, 2012

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.

Rallying supporters at an airport hangar just outside of Columbia, Rep. Ron Paul basked in his second-place New Hampshire showing. Unlike the others, he did not call South Carolina a decisive primary, instead saying it’s the next in line.

Unlike some of the other candidates, Mr. Paul, of Texas, appears to have the money and organization to fight deep into the campaign, and his third-place showing in Iowa and second-place showing in New Hampshire give him claim to the anti-Romney status all of the candidates are seeking.

“If this momentum is going to continue, we’re going to have to do the work, and it takes a lot of work,” he said, calling on his enthusiastic supporters to continue the outreach they have been making over the Internet and in person.

Speaking to reporters before he left New Hampshire, Mr. Romney said he has an uphill push to win South Carolina. But his operation and support network belie that.

His campaign announced he raised $24 million in the final three months of 2011, and he has the support of major figures in state politics, including Mrs. Haley, the Republican governor.

His fundraising marks his best quarter of this campaign, and it comes as he is increasingly portraying an air of inevitability.

All told, Mr. Romney raised $56 million in 2011. President Obama and the Democratic National Committee, meanwhile, were on pace to raise more than $200 million in 2011.

Also on the ground in South Carolina are Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who didn’t compete in New Hampshire in favor of devoting attention to South Carolina, and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., whose third-place showing in New Hampshire will be tough to duplicate with the more conservative voters here.

Mr. Huntsman told reporters expectations for him here are “very low. And I think I’ll exceed that.”

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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