US Republican candidates turn to South Carolina

Republican presidential candidates turned their attention to South Carolina on Wednesday with their White House race as wide open as ever with a win by Mitt Romney in Michigan.

Former Massachusetts governor Romney, Arizona Senator John McCain, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee and former Tennessee senator Fred Thompson were all spreading out across the state for a frenzy of campaigning.

South Carolina Republicans vote on Saturday in the first contest in the South in the US presidential race to determine which Republican will face the Democrats’ choice in the November election to succeed President George Bush.

While the Republican focus was in Michigan, Democratic White House contenders Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton held a friendly debate in Nevada—site of that party’s next contest on Saturday—promising to end a damaging dispute over race.

They praised each other’s commitment to civil rights and agreed the clash had been exacerbated by overzealous surrogates in both their campaigns.

“We both have exuberance and sometimes uncontrollable supporters,” said Clinton, a New York senator and former first lady. “We need to get this campaign where it should be. We’re all family in the Democratic Party.”

Republican McCain holds a six-point lead over rival Huckabee in South Carolina three days before the state’s presidential nominating contest, according to a Reuters/C-Span/Zogby poll released on Wednesday.

McCain leads Huckabee by 29% to 23%, while Romney was in third place with 13%.

But Romney comes into South Carolina with a burst of momentum after winning his birth state of Michigan, out-dueling second-place finisher McCain in a back-and-forth over the state’s ailing economy.

With Iraq receding from front pages, the US economy has emerged as a potent issue facing the candidates amid voter concerns about the possibility of a recession over the housing market crisis.

lost jobs

Romney argued he would be able to ease government regulations to bring back some of the jobs lost by Michigan’s auto industry.
McCain said bluntly some of those jobs are gone and that those workers must be retrained for high-tech employment.

In his victory speech, Romney tried to portray himself as an agent of change and McCain as a Washington insider, even though the maverick senator from Arizona, has ruffled feathers all over Capitol Hill.

“There’s no way that an insider in Washington is going to turn Washington inside-out,” Romney said.

McCain, who leads in polls in South Carolina over Huckabee, said he told the people in Michigan the truth.

“I am as committed now as I have ever been to making sure that no state, whether its Michigan or South Carolina or anywhere in this blessed country, is left behind in the global economy,” he said.

McCain, a former Vietnam war prisoner and member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, planned to emphasise his national security credentials in South Carolina, a state with deep ties to the US military.

Huckabee, an ordained Baptist preacher, hoped to attract evangelical Christians in the same way they turned out to give him a win in Iowa.

Thompson, making probably a last stand in South Carolina, hoped to convince the state’s Republicans he is the true conservative choice.

“As the contest moves to South Carolina, look for Romney, McCain and Huckabee to face serious questions about their commitment to consistent conservative principles. Their records are in stark contrast to Fred Thompson, who remains the one true steadfast conservative in this race,” said Thompson campaign manager Bill Lacy.

Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who finished in single digits in Michigan, looked to hang on until Florida’s contest on January 29, believing a win there will give him momentum ahead of the February 5 “Super Tuesday,” when 22 states, including his home state of New York make their choices. - Reuters

Tales from the Trail: 2008

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