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Palmetto peloton

"Palmetto peloton" Continued...

Issue: "Steve Jobs 1955-2011," Oct. 22, 2011

Randy Page-an evangelical, social conservative, and president of South Carolinians for Responsible Government-is still mulling the GOP slate. Page-also a board member of South Carolina Citizens for Life-met Romney during the last primary cycle, and says that he's comfortable with his pro-life position: "I do believe people can change."

Page also says he thinks social conservatives are interested in the whole picture for GOP candidates: "You can't break the litmus test-you have to be pro-life-but we're also concerned about where you stand on the budget and welfare reform and taxes."

Oran Smith-an evangelical and president of the conservative Palmetto Family Council (PFC)-says he thinks Romney's stated positions on social issues are relatively strong, but that he still faces an uphill battle to win the South Carolina contest.

Smith says Romney's halting answers to a question at a South Carolina debate regarding whether his vice president and cabinet appointees would hold pro-life convictions left some voters cold: "I think there was enough of a hiccup there that did not make him the first choice of some cultural and social conservatives."

Perry's campaign has unquestionably hit bumps: He still faces conservative challenges over his immigration policy that allows in-state college tuition for illegal immigrants, and questions over his attempt to make the HPV vaccine mandatory for young girls in Texas. (The governor has since said he should have proposed allowing families to opt into the vaccine for the sexually transmitted disease.)

Still, Smith thinks those concerns won't fell the candidate, and that Perry likely has the best chance to win South Carolina, barring a major gaffe, a dark horse candidate, or a sea change endorsement for Romney by someone like influential Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C. For Perry, a win here is critical, since a loss in South Carolina would likely be far more damaging than a loss for Romney, says Smith: "I think if Perry has problems here, Perry has problems."

Romney's Mormonism seems unlikely to create substantial political problems for him in this cycle. The candidate's religion drew more attention last time, but evangelicals like Page, Smith, and others don't think it's a major issue with voters during this cycle.

David Woodard, a political scientist at Clemson University, agrees with that assessment but says Romney's attempt to woo South Carolina voters still faces resistance: "I just cannot see South Carolina Republican voters voting for a Mormon governor from Massachusetts." That's especially true, says Woodard, when they have the choice of a Texas governor with a Christian background: "I think Perry's Christian associations, his football, his boots, his talkin', his ya'll-I think all of it will connect eventually."

Chad Connelly-chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party and a board member at PFC-says connecting with conservatives will hinge on an understanding that fiscal issues and social issues work together: "I'm one of those people who thinks you can't separate the two." Policies that encourage hard work, marriage, and personal responsibility are key to encouraging conservative support, he says: "I think anyone who wins here is going to have to understand that."

Jamie Dean
Jamie Dean

Jamie lives and works in North Carolina, where she covers the national political beat and other topics as news editor for WORLD. Follow Jamie on Twitter @deanworldmag.

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