The 2012 presidential race is under way in South Carolina.
Former U.S. Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich visits Columbia and Charleston today for a pair of fundraisers — his second visit to the state since the spring.
Other potential Republican presidential contenders have also made S.C. visits recently including Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, former Alaska governor and 2008 vice president pick Sarah Palin, former Massachusetts governor and 2008 presidential contender Mitt Romney and former Pennsylvania U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum.
South Carolina represents some of the most fertile GOP ground in the nation because of its Republican-leaning voters and its early presidential primary, critical to selecting the Republican candidate who will take on Democratic President Barack Obama in 2012.
"Every potential Republican presidential candidate knows the importance of South Carolina," said Larry Sabato, a University of Virginia political scientist. "It's one of the earliest states to vote. And, for Republicans, South Carolina is the gateway to the South. The South has to remain solid for a Republican candidate to have a chance of winning the White House. Expect to see all of (the Republican presidential hopefuls) appear in South Carolina."
A May poll conducted by Public Policy Polling of likely S.C. voters showed Gingrich as the early presidential favorite, garnering 25 percent of the vote, followed closely by Romney and Palin. Former Arkansas governor and 2008 presidential candidate Mike Huckabee held 19 percent while U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, also a 2008 presidential contender, came in last with 7 percent.
Huckabee also has stopped in South Carolina this year, stumping for Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer in his gubernatorial bid days before the June primary. Short stops have also been made in 2010 by U.S. Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana and former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, a long shot presidential hopeful.
Joel Sawyer, executive director of the S.C. GOP, said the state's national influence is expanding as it morphs into a political bellwether for a new, conservative movement.
"The country is moving to the right," Sawyer said. "There's an ideological rebellion on what people see going on in Washington. So many of the people who have been leading that charge are from South Carolina — Jim DeMint, Joe Wilson. And Nikki Haley is now getting attention for those same ideas."
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