MANCHESTER, N.H. — Now that the New Hampshire primary is out of the way, the political world is refocusing its lens on South Carolina, which will complete the early voting state trifecta when it holds its Jan. 21 primary.
Texas Congressman Ron Paul and Gov. Rick Perry are competing as conservative candidates there, but they’re coming from very different places. Paul’s campaign is basking in the glow of a second-place finish Tuesday in New Hampshire, a primary that Perry's campaign skipped.
The path to victory for either man is likely to be difficult. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, fresh off his win in New Hampshire, is a clear front-runner and heads into South Carolina with strong poll numbers and a coveted endorsement from the state's governor, Nikki Haley.
Paul's strong showing Tuesday helps give him the fundraising momentum he needs and keeps alive his message of preserving a sound monetary system, personal liberties and what he calls "sensible” foreign policies.
Perry's candidacy never caught on in New Hampshire, and his campaign has instead focused all its energy on South Carolina, which holds the nation’s first southern primary.
Perry put in a full day of campaigning Tuesday in northern and central parts of the state. Asked if he had any regrets about skipping the New Hampshire contest (and the center of the media universe for the day), he took note of the balmy weather in the Palmetto State.
“I think South Carolina is a great place to be,” Perry said.
The governor refused to say what kind of percentage he needed to get in South Carolina to keep his campaign going.
“I’m not here to come in second,” he said.
Neither is Paul. His campaign touts millions left in the bank and a surge in support among independent and crossover voters, and campaign manager Jesse Benton said they are prepared to stay in the race for the long haul. After Tuesday’s showing, he told the Tribune that Perry isn’t a factor: This is now a “two-man race between Ron Paul and Mitt Romney.”
Benton said the Paul campaign will compete aggressively in South Carolina, using the same tools that worked for them in Iowa and New Hampshire — direct contact with voters, television ads, phone banks, direct mail and a grass-roots network known for being vocal and loyal to Paul’s philosophy.
Without the support of many “mainstream” Republicans, the campaign is also planning to allocate its resources in caucus states in order to gain as many delegates as possible heading into the GOP convention.
Despite previous reports the Paul campaign would skip the Jan. 31 primary Florida — a winner-take-all state — Benton said they would reconsider if the state moves to a proportional delegate system.
“We’re going to compete there. The question is whether we want to buy millions of dollars worth of TV ads for 50 delegates,” he said.
In a rare media availability over the weekend (see the video below), Paul told reporters he left political strategy to his campaign workers. His focus is on studying history and economic policy — and finding the best ways to communicate those lessons.
“South Carolina will be a nice test for us because it’s a bigger state,” he said. “And if we do well there, that will encourage fundraising and it alerts other people to the message. ‘What is he talking about? Maybe he has some answers.’”