Next stop South Carolina: Can Romney's train keep chugging ahead?
If the trend so far in the primaries has been for Republican voters to vote for Mitt Romney with their heads and not with their hearts, some in conservative South Carolina are saying: 'Not so fast.' Most evangelical leaders meeting in Texas Saturday voted to back Rick Santorum.
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"I went with electability," says Mr. Kline, chairman of the board of selectmen in Pembroke, N.H.
That, in a nutshell, may be the story of the 2012 Republican primaries: voters who, above all, want to defeat President Obama, and are going with their heads and not their hearts when they enter the voting booth.
Among the Republican contenders, the moderate former governor of Massachusetts is the most organized and best funded. Polls consistently show Mr. Romney as the strongest potential GOP nominee. In part, it is that sentiment – practicality, not love – that has put Romney at the top of polls in conservative, evangelical-heavy South Carolina, scene of the next primary on Jan. 21.
But on Saturday, at a gathering in Houston, some 150 religious conservative leaders from around the country said “not so fast.” Most voted to back the candidacy of former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, a devout Catholic known for his conservative social views.
And even before the Santorum endorsement, whose value at this late hour is questionable, some GOP strategists in South Carolina were counseling caution in predicting the outcome next Saturday.
"It's too early to give [Romney] the crown," says J. David Woodard, a political scientist at Clemson University in Clemson, S.C. and a Republican consultant. "Just because he came in here with some momentum doesn't mean it's over."
After all, Romney came in fourth in South Carolina in 2008 with 15 percent, behind Arizona Sen. John McCain, the eventual GOP nominee, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, and former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson.
Of course, Romney has the potential to do what Senator McCain did: take advantage of a divided field and win with a modest plurality. McCain won South Carolina four years ago with only 33 percent of the vote. But the state's Republicans are proud hosts of the first primary in a red state, and some don't rule out the possibility that another candidate could stage a late surge and win.