Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney may be known as the stiffest of the remaining presidential contenders, but up close, he won over some converts at a soggy campaign event in Gilbert, South Carolina Friday, stressing bread-and-butter economic issues.
“I had to physically look into his eyes and see,” says Janet Underhill, of nearby Prosperity, who said she was undecided before the event. “Newt [Gingrich] is bulldog-ish, but Mitt has the passion.”
With about 300 supporters showing up despite persistent rainfall, Romney sought to turn around his fortunes in South Carolina, which have suddenly taken a turn for the worst. As recently as a few days ago, he looked all but unbeatable in the polls, but he has seen his poll numbers plunge as his chief rivals, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, gained ground. While Gingrich’s momentum was seemingly blunted by blockbuster revelations from his ex-wife, Gingrich’s angry denunciation of the charges may have actually helped his standing among South Carolina voters.
In a race that has hinged on a variety of issues—war, abortion, healthcare, honesty—Romney showed he could still connect with South Carolina voters by promising to bring back jobs to a region battered by the recession. Borrowing a line from Texas Gov. Rick Perry–who dropped out of the race Thursday to endorse Gingrich—Romney is also stressing his outsider credentials, blasting all of his rivals for serving in Congress.
“He sounds genuine,” says Jim Curley, from Lexington, South Carolina, who said the most important issue to him is “downsizing government.”
Curley said he was still undecided, but was closer to Romney after seeing him in person.
While Romney’s campaign is still insisting that the result of the Iowa Caucus was a tie, he at least jokingly admitted that it was Santorum’s victory. He repeated a familiar campaign line that while he was in Iowa he claimed that corn was an “amber wave of grain.”
“That probably accounts for my slim loss there,” Romney said.