Will Mitt Romney get the military vote in South Carolina?
Ron Paul has the most active-military donors. Mitt Romney say he will increase Navy shipbuilding. Newt Gingrich is surging in the latest poll.
South Carolina's current and former military personnel form an influential voting bloc but they are split over which Republican to back in the state's presidential primary on Saturday.Skip to next paragraph
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Thousands of military retirees and active duty personnel helped Vietnam War hero John McCain win the state's primary in 2008. But, much like the split evangelical vote in South Carolina, the military vote does not appear to have settled en masse on a candidate this time around.
"I don't see anybody that's a clear veteran candidate right now," said Republican strategist Wesley Donehue, who advised Michele Bachmann's campaign in South Carolina before she quit the race.
A quarter of voters in the state's 2008 Republican primary said they had served in the military, exit polls showed. McCain, the eventual nominee, won 36 percent of those votes.
South Carolina's nearly 407,000 veterans comprise close to 9 percent of its overall population. Thousands more active-duty and civilian personnel are employed at the state's eight military bases, with approximately 21,000 military members reporting South Carolina as their state of residence for tax purposes.
But libertarian Ron Paul may struggle getting votes from veterans because of his isolationist foreign policy.
Front-runner Mitt Romney has made an overt push for military votes in the past week. He held one campaign event at an American Legion post and at another shared the stage with several dozen veterans and McCain, who has endorsed Romney and is a former Navy pilot and prisoner of war in Vietnam.
A new CNN poll said Romney's lead over Gingrich had shrunk to 10 percentage points, 33 percent to 23 percent, down from a 19-point lead two weeks ago, as the former private equity firm executive faced increasing pressure to reveal more about his vast financial holdings.
Romney has mixed criticism of Obama's plan to cut $487 billion in projected defense spending over the next decade with anecdotes of his own interactions with service members when he was the governor of Massachusetts.
He told a story of watching a soldier's casket arrive home from war. It brought tears to the eyes of a recently retired Air Force member who attended the campaign event in Sumter, South Carolina.
"He's got my vote," Peter St. Onge, 41, said afterward. "You can't fake that."
ADDING MILITARY MUSCLE