ROCK HILL, S.C. — Mitt Romney's Michigan win didn't seem to bother Republican rival Fred Thompson.
"It undoubtedly will recharge him a little," the former Tennessee senator said Wednesday in Rock Hill. "But it seems he's got a lot of recharging to do."
A day after Romney's victory in Michigan jumbled the Republican field, he still faced an uphill battle in South Carolina, where Republicans vote Saturday. In fact, the former Massachusetts governor said he didn't expect to win in South Carolina, and might not finish in the top three.
New polls, including one by Clemson University, showed Sen. John McCain of Arizona leading, with former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee right behind. Romney, Thompson and other candidates lagged much farther back.
"It's still a McCain-Huckabee race here," said Neal Thigpen, a political scientist at Francis Marion University in Florence.
Bolstered by last week's win in New Hampshire, McCain has the support of much of the party establishment, including many who opposed him eight years ago in favor of George W. Bush. Huckabee, the winner of the Iowa caucuses, has a base among evangelical Christians, who, Thigpen said, could account for up to 40 percent of the Republican vote.
Except for former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who's banking on later primaries in Florida and other big states, most Republican candidates are spending a lot of time in South Carolina. Each has a lot at stake.
Thompson is in the midst of an 11-day swing. Huckabee and McCain are campaigning extensively. Romney arrived Wednesday and plans to leave Thursday for Nevada, where more delegates are at stake in Saturday's Republican caucuses.
"I'm not looking for gold stars on my forehead like I was in first grade," he said Wednesday. "I want delegates."
Romney has spent months and a lot of money campaigning for South Carolina votes. A Mormon, he courted social conservatives and even won the endorsement of Bob Jones III, the president of Greenville's fundamentalist Bob Jones University.
"A lot of these evangelical Christian voters were with him early because they didn't think Huckabee had a chance," Thigpen said. "But a lot of them have left Romney. And Huckabee, there's natural ground."
Elbows have been flying all around.
Romney's campaign issued a release Wednesday blasting McCain's "defeatism" and "pessimistic outlook." A McCain mailing attacked Romney's record in Massachusetts.
Thompson took aim at Romney and McCain. He told an Abbeville audience that McCain had promised a federal "bailout" of Michigan, and criticized McCain's support for a federal immigration bill. His campaign also accused Huckabee of flip-flopping on several issues.
The Club for Growth, an anti-tax group that earlier spent $150,000 on anti-Huckabee TV ads, also has criticized Huckabee's record, particularly tax hikes he championed as governor. Such criticisms have hit home with some voters.
"I thought about Huckabee, and then I looked at his record," said Breeanne Howe of Fort Mill. "It didn't match what he was saying."
Huckabee supporters dismiss the attacks.
"You can make the numbers say what you want," said Jack Bratton of Union.
"Those are misrepresentations of Governor Huckabee's record."
(Morrill reports for The Charlotte Observer. Peter St. Onge of The Charlotte Observer contributed to this article.)