The State of the Race in GOP SC

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COLUMBIA, S.C. — After a five-day hiatus in South Carolina, the Mitt Romney campaign has repurchased television spots here for Tuesday and Wednesday, with the option of extending the ads through the election. Romney also has planned a four-event swing through the state Wednesday. Warren Tompkins, Romney’s consultant in the state, says that there is no time left to send out new mail pieces. A final decision about how hard Romney will compete here will be made in the next 24 hours.

The potential for a Romney return to the state is a huge X-factor in the Republican race. As it stands there are no public polls here that anyone feels too comfortable with. It’s clear that Mike Huckabee was ahead here before the New Hampshire primary. It’s also clear that John McCain got a boost because of that primary, and that Fred Thompson got a boost last Thursday from the Myrtle Beach debate, and it is equally likely that the winner in Michigan will get a boost. In the meantime, the polls are chaotic and unreliable. In fact, the Clemson University Palmetto Poll was out in the field all of last week, but decided against releasing the results because of all the swings.

David Woodard, who helps run the poll, said that he was getting results that showed as many as 45 percent of likely voters “wandering in the dark,” meaning they either had not been paying attention, or they had been paying attention but had not yet decided on a candidate. Another fact: 52 percent of likely voters last week said they might change their minds before Saturday.

So a Romney win in Michigan and a return to South Carolina could have a big impact. This is especially true if Romney decides to reprise his old role as a McCain badmouther. Perhaps the most important fact about the current race is that no one is challenging McCain. Meanwhile, everyone else in the GOP field seems to be attacking each other, including an ongoing feud between Thompson and Huckabee. “McCain is going negative on us. Thompson is going negative on Huckabee,” said Tompkins. “It’s clear that Thompson is a foil for McCain here.”

Meanwhile, a group called Vietnam Veterans Against John McCain dropped a factually-challenged mailer here, prompting the McCain campaign to hold a conference call this afternoon. “I am really disgusted,” said Henry McMaster, the state’s attorney general, who supports McCain. “Nothing in here is true.” Among other things, the mailer accuses McCain of turning on his fellow prisoners of war in Vietnam, labeling him a prison “songbird.”