Santorum relying on conservative upstate in S.C.

Politics,Beltway Confidential

Rick Santorum’s campaign is still confident the former Pennsylvania Senator will win the South Carolina primary this Saturday, despite polls that show Mitt Romney as the frontruner in the Palmetto State.

A campaign advisor said the campaign’s early focus on the state, especially the conservative Uplands of South Carolina – which includes the towns of Greenville, Spartanburg and Rock Hill – would pay off for Santorum on primary day.

“Rick Santorum has been here,” the adviser said. Unlike other candidates, “he’s not a Johnny-come-lately.”

A new CNN poll of South Carlina shows Santorum trailing Romney by 17 points and Gingrich by 7.

Santorum is relying on “the Huckabee Belt” – the counties Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee won in 2008 – to best Romney and Gingrich. York, Lancaster and Cherokee counties are all targets for Santorum. In 2008, Huckabee beat Romney in those areas by more than a 3-1 margin as he narrowly lost South Carolina to John McCain. Huckabee finished with 29.9 percent of the vote to McCain's 32.2 percent.

McCain’s decision to endorse Romney on January 4, the day after Romney and Santorum’s virtual tie in the Iowa caucuses, could prove a spoiler for Santorum’s plans in South Carolina and his three state strategy to win the nomination. However, Santorum’s adviser said that was unlikely.

“That doesn’t help him [Romney] here,” he said.

The adviser acknowledged that 2012 is a different race, but the South Carolina native said in his opinion, McCain’s supporters would be more likely to vote for Gingrich than Romney.

He also predicted turnout would be higher in the Uplands this year because of the unseasonably warm weather. In 2008, it snowed in the Greenville-Spartanburg area, keeping many of the area’s rural residents at home. Turnout was down 36 percent overall in the 2008 South Carolina Republican Primary compared with 2000.

In the end, the adviser said Santorum would win South Carolina because he was more committed to the state than other candidates, especially Gingrich. Santorum opened his Rock Hill and Charleston offices nearly five months ago. He has opened an additional four offices since the Iowa caucus. Gingrich did not open his first office in South Carolina until late November.

The adviser also pointed out that today was the first visit Romney had made to the Rock Hill area, and that Newt had only visited once. Santorum is the only candidate with an office in Rock Hill.

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