ROCK HILL — The front-runner and an underdog vying for the Republican presidential nomination will make their first stops in Rock Hill today and tomorrow, days before the state's first-in-the-South primary.
U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas will hold a town hall meeting at the Holiday Inn at the Rock Hill Galleria at 4:30 p.m. today, while former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney will hold a campaign rally at Winthrop University at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday.
Romney, who is leading in most polls, and Paul are among the five remaining candidates vying for South Carolina votes in In recent weeks all the candidates have increased efforts in South Carolina, where polls show many voters remain undecided.
Jon Huntsman, a former Utah governor and Obama adminstration ambassador to China, announced Monday in Myrtle Beach that he was dropping out. He endorsed Romney, who won the New Hampshire primary easily and the Iowa caucuses narrowly.
Romney only recently became the front-runner in South Carolina polls, trailing first behind Texas Gov. Rick Perry, then Atlanta businessman Herman Cain, who dropped his campaign, and then former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich. All have tried to portray themselves as a more conservative alternative to Romney.
A comparison of Insider Advantage polls of S.C. voters released Sunday and Jan. 11 shows Romney at 32 percent - up from 23 percent - with Gingrich holding steady at 21 percent and Paul edging past former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania for third place.
Scott Huffmon, a Winthrop University pollster and political science professor, said Paul is "going to try to latch on to the tea party element," which shares his ideas of limited government and his criticism of the Federal Reserve system.
Paul's supporters are "so passionate and so committed," Huffmon said, "that even though election after election it is shown that their numbers are very small, they tend to make themselves seen.
"Even if (Paul is) not going to win, as most polls have shown, he definitely changes the nature of the debate."
Romney's goal in York County will be to "build on some of the same type of people that turned out so strongly for (John) McCain" in 2008, he said. There are many "McCain-type fiscal conservatives in York County, a lot of mainstream Republicans" to appeal to, Huffmon said.
While those voters are steadily increasing each year, he said, Romney will also try to reach as many different types of conservatives in the state between now and Saturday's contest.
"He wants to show that he can run in all parts of the state," Huffmon said. "Saying you can run across all parts of South Carolina is tantamount to saying you can run across all types of conservatives."
Up until this week, York County has been visited primarily by candidates running on more socially conservative platforms, hoping to build their support base among the area's evangelicals.
Those candidates, including U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota and Atlanta pizza magnate Herman Cain, have since dropped out of the race.
Glenn McCall, chairman of the York County Republican Party, said Romney likely will see a warm reception, especially from voters who have given him "quiet support." Among undecided voters McCall has talked to, Romney's name is often the first to come up as the candidate who can win in the general election, he said.
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