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Romney Makes Closing Argument to S.C. Voters

Romney Makes Closing Argument to S.C. Voters

By Caitlin Huey-Burns - January 20, 2012


NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. -- Facing a difficult battle in Saturday's primary here, Mitt Romney and his wife made a closing argument to voters on Friday, saying that he is the candidate who can "save America."

Introducing her husband, as she often does on the campaign trail, Ann Romney again described the moment she encouraged her husband to run for president for the second time. She says she asked him, " ‘Can you save America?’ And he said he could, so let's give him a chance to do that."

Romney, who rolled into the Charleston Area Convention Center in his “Believe in America” tour bus, did not mention or criticize his chief rival here, Newt Gingrich, as he had done on the campaign trail earlier this week. Gingrich has crept past Romney in the RCP polling average, and the former House speaker appears determined to block Romney's path to the nomination. (Charleston congressman Tim Scott predicts a Gingrich win when the votes are counted Saturday night.)

The week has been a difficult one for the former Massachusetts governor, as his reluctance to release his tax returns has triggered criticism. And yesterday he learned he was not, in fact, the victor in Iowa after the state Republican Party released a certified tally that put Rick Santorum ahead by 34 votes.

Instead, he sharpened his attacks on President Obama, focusing on defense spending and foreign relations to appeal to voters in this state steeped in military history and bases. He accused Obama of being a "pretty please" president who "fundamentally believes America is in decline relative to other nations" and who tries to appease foreign leaders such as Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Romney often criticizes Obama as an appeaser who "apologizes for America," though the president has never said those words. Romney painted him as wanting to slash defense spending, and portrayed himself as eager to support the nation's military. Romney then asked veterans of the armed forces to "raise your hand and be recognized" -- and many did.

Romney was flanked by his newest endorsee, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley. McDonnell, who served in the Army and whose daughter completed a tour in Iraq, offered a similar picture of Obama vs. Romney in announcing his endorsement, saying Romney wants to "expand freedom around the world."

McDonnell, a rising GOP star who heightened his national profile by taking the reins of the Republican Governors Association, had said throughout the campaign cycle that he would support a current or former governor. With Jon Huntsman and Rick Perry -- whom McDonnell calls a "close personal friend" -- now out of the race, Romney is the last one with that credential.

“It just seemed that with all the factors we were looking at that today seemed like the right day" to make his choice, McDonnell told RCP. "I love Mitt Romney. He's the best leader for the future. . . . I told him anytime, anywhere he needs me, I'll be there to support him." McDonnell visited South Carolina last weekend to participate in Rep. Tim Scott's town hall -- perhaps a signs that the Virginia governor is angling for the vice presidential nod.

Meanwhile, Nikki Haley has been campaigning aggressively for Romney in her state, a place that prides itself on picking presidents -- every GOP nominee since 1980 has won the primary here. On Thursday, Romney led the crowd gathered at the convention center in the singing of "Happy Birthday" for Haley, who turned 40 on Thursday. He joked with the crowd that their governor is "getting old"; in return, Haley said, "All I want is President Romney for my birthday."

Afterwards, the national front-runner flew to an event upstate in Greenville. He will be in Columbia on Saturday night for the returns. 

Caitlin Huey-Burns is a congressional reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at chueyburns@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @CHueyBurnsRCP.

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