The battle for South Carolina has begun, and it's just as nasty as campaign veterans had predicted.
Mitt Romney is the main target as the Republican presidential frontrunner. Fresh from his victory in the New Hampshire primary Tuesday, and a week after his success in the Iowa caucuses, Romney can make a huge stride toward becoming the presumptive GOP nominee if he wins in the Palmetto State's primary on January 21. He is trying to engage his GOP opponents and at the same time make his case against President Obama for the general election.
As the campaign in South Carolina begins in earnest, Romney is being attacked as never before by his competitors who believe they must stop him now or he will march inexorably to the nomination.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is billing Romney as a "moderate from Massachusetts," not a genuine conservative modeled after Ronald Reagan, which is the way Gingrich defines himself. Gingrich is still fuming because of attacks by Romney and his supporters that devastated Gingrich in Iowa and quickly toppled him from the lead in the race. Gingrich told Piers Morgan on CNN last night that Romney's campaign will wither in conservative South Carolina as his rivals show that he isn't conservative enough and has changed his mind too often of fundamental issues, such as abortion and gay rights. While campaigning, Gingrich has said that Romney practiced a predatory form of capitalism as a partner in Bain Capital, a private-equity firm.
Some conservatives including Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina and commentator Rush Limbaugh say Gingrich has gone too far in attacking Romney and Bain, because Gingrich is coming across as opposed to the free-enterprise system.
Gov. Rick Perry of Texas is also on the offensive. He goes even further in attacking Romney, calling him a "vulture capitalist" who cared only about making money and who terminated the jobs of many everyday people in the process. This could be Perry's last stand after poor showings in the nominating contests so far.
Former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, who ran a very close second in Iowa but faded badly in New Hampshire, isn't a Bain-basher, but he is attacking Romney for flip-flopping and for not being a reliable conservative.[See a collection of political cartoons on Mitt Romney]
Former Gov. Jon Huntsman of Utah finished a disappointing third in New Hampshire, where he had campaigned almost full-time, and is trying to stay afloat. He jumped on Romney for saying he enjoyed firing people who didn't deliver appropriate services—a reference to health-insurance companies. Huntsman delivered an effective zinger when he said he enjoys creating jobs, not terminating them.
Rep. Ron Paul of Texas has, as usual, been charting his own distinctive libertarian course. He hasn't bashed Romney as the others have, but has attacked Gingrich in particular as a hypocrite and a Washington insider who is trying to bill himself as an outsider. [Ron Paul Won't Be Much of Thorn in Romney's Side.]
The talk on the political circuit for the past 24 hours has been a half-hour movie, entitled "When Mitt Romney Came to Town," that depicts his record at Bain in the harshest way. It shows workers being interviewed about the hardships they endured when Bain ended their jobs. Snippets from the movie are being used in TV ads in South Carolina sponsored by "Winning Our Future," a political action committee run by Gingrich supporters.