COLUMBIA, SC -- Why has Mitt Romney spent so much time in South Carolina recently? Perhaps his own words shed some light: "I don't think it's lost on anyone who is considering a national run that no Republican has been elected president that didn't win the South Carolina primary," said Romney.
Of course, Romney won't admit he's running for president, he's merely "keeping [his] options open." But, he continues, “to keep your options open, you have to get out and be seen and do some work for, particularly the early primary states."
Few who pay attention to the rumor mill in politics doubt that Romney will make an all-out effort to capture the Republican nomination in 2008. He has the national profile: CEO of the Salt Lake City Olympic Games; conservative Republican governor in the nation’s bluest state; and opponent of the Massachusetts same-sex ‘marriage’ debacle, his name is no stranger to the front pages of newspapers nationwide—by the way, on the judges who made the ‘marriage’ decision, he said, “I think they’re wrong.”
Governor Romney has ventured to the Palmetto State several times in the past year, most recently in late February for events in the top three most heavily Republican counties in the state. Townhall.com attended two of the three events and garnered some insight into his chances to capture the First in the South primary in 2008.
Romney, who identified himself as a nuanced pro-choicer in his Senate battle against über-liberal Ted Kennedy in 1996, is a changed man. “I’m pro-life,” he offers, “So, the issue is settled.” Skeptical pundits believe he might have flip-flopped on abortion with the gleam of a 2008 run in his eye and decided to reach out to the GOP base. Certainly, being pro-life is a pre-requisite for achieving victory in South Carolina these days.
Other pundits say that the GOP base, many of them evangelical Christians, might reject a Mormon candidate. However, Romney chalks those assertions up as total bunk. “Most people in South Carolina want a person of faith as their leader. But they don’t care what brand of faith that is,” he said. Surprisingly, he may be onto something.
Dr. Bob Taylor is a dean at Bob Jones University, an evangelical school in Greenville, and generally the political thermometer for the most faithful of South Carolina voters. Political types close to Taylor quote him as not viewing Romney's religion as a crippling issue. As long as Romney maintains his faithfulness to conservative principles, the faithful will accept him.
In one of his speeches, Romney identified three potential problems facing America today: fiscal, military and economic.
On the fiscal front, he identified the challenges, including out of control spending. “We’re spending too much and we’re borrowing too much; it can’t keep on going like this,” the governor said. The budget is too large, government is too irresponsible,” he said.
Spending too much on entitlements threatens the defense budget, which leads right into his second front, the military. While the world is under attack by extremist Muslim terrorists, only one power keeps a radical caliphate from controlling the entire Middle East: the United States. Thus, the American president and the military must ensure that that doesn’t happen.
Leading into his final front, Romney said, “We want to make sure that this country always remains the superpower economically and militarily on this planet. And you can't be a tier one military and a tier two economy." Though the economy is growing so well, he said, we’re losing a lot of high-tech jobs to Asia. Asian high-tech workers are cheaper, say several business executives, and Asia has more ‘knowledge workers.’ China and India have more engineers than the U.S. “Nothing is more vulnerable than entrenched success…let’s avoid becoming the France of the 21st century,” Romney said.
Romney is serious about reforming immigration. However, his focus is not on keeping people out, but keeping them in. Government policies that keep the southern border open to illegal aliens, but keep other borders “absolutely sealed against those people who are the best and brightest in the world,” are ridiculous. He cited stories of PhD candidates receiving fast-track visas to study at his home state MIT but then being forced to return to their native lands upon graduation, taking their knowledge and skills with them. He wants to help them invest their intellectual capital in American industries and American technologies—not China’s.
Romney also offered solutions. First, we must raise the bar in education, especially by increasing funding for science and math. Second, he wants to invest billions more in technology—healthcare, fuel, and power technology. Third, take the burdens off workers and businesses by passing tort reform. Finally, large government overwhelms the playing field and makes it difficult for private enterprises to compete, so shrink it.
One year ago, Romney spoke at another fundraiser in South Carolina. At that time, he was an outsider with little chance of appealing to voters. How much can a year change political realities? This time around, political operatives from around the state were scrambling to meet with him and his staff. Knowledgeable political types whisper that he may have some real traction in South Carolina in 2008.
Scott Malyerck, Executive Director of the South Carolina Republican Party, believes South Carolina voters have been thoroughly impressed with Romney. “His remarks have been well-received by both moderate and conservative Republicans,” said Malyerck in an interview with Townhall.com.
Continuing, Malyerck said, “I think Mitt Romney understands that if he decides to run for president, he will spend many weeks talking to South Carolinians about the future of our country and the challenges that lie ahead. So far, Republicans seem to be impressed with him, like his enthusiasm, and enjoy hearing what he has to say. I suspect we will be seeing a lot of Governor Romney in the future.”
Make no mistake: Romney’s running for president. And there’s no better place to start earning legitimacy than South Carolina.