As we gear up for Saturday's GOP Primary in South Carolina, I had the chance to interview Mitt Romney's South Carolina State Director, Terry Sullivan.
"It's kinda' nuts down here at the moment ... McCain's definitely in first, but before New Hampshire, Huckabee was in first place," he says. There is no doubt, according to Sullivan, that today's results in Michigan will also play a role in South Carolina.
Prior to joining the Romney campaign, Sullivan managed Jim DeMint's 2004 Senate campaign. In fact, that multi-candidate primary race serves as a sort of microcosm of this race, with Huckabee and McCain playing the role of the popular and religious former SC governor David Beasley, and Romney playing the role of Jim DeMint.
Demint and Romney, Sullivan tells me, are both "kind of policy-wonkish, data-driven guys."
In addition to the 2004 parallel, the 2008 South Carolina GOP Primary also pits the states' two U.S. Senators against each other. DeMint is strongly supporting Romney, while Lindsay Graham has endorsed his friend John McCain.
Sullivan tells me Romney has been coming to the state for over a year, and that their grassroots campaign is going strong:
"We've got a very passionate base here ... We're making thousands of calls a week, and have been for months," he adds.Geographically, Romney's support is spread across the state. Meanwhile, McCain is strong on the coast -- where lots of military folks have retired. And Huckabee is strong up-state -- the most socially conservative part of the state. Sullivan admits that Romney's decision to pull TV ads last week had an impact:
"It would be disingenuous -- when everyone else is running hundreds of thousands of dollars of TV -- and you're dark ... it has an impact."But he also notes that the ads are back up today.
Sullivan's partner is Warren Tompkins, who is also heavily involved in the race. In 2000, Tompkins ran George W. Bush's campaign in South Carolina. Of course, South Carolina served as Bush's "fire wall" -- and was also the location where push-polls alleged John McCain had fathered an illegitimate black child.
Sullivan points out that McCain has been sending out negative mailers in the state, using a pro-McCain website as the source. "They can't even make accusations citing newspapers," he says.
According to Sullivan, the so-called push-polls didn't cost McCain the 2000 race:
"George Bush won because he was right on the issues and John McCain lost because he was wrong."
He also believes McCain is "milking" the 2000 "negative campaigning" accusations for all they are worth:
"It's like a basketball player who can roll around on the floor and howl when he never got fouled."