our years ago, Romney invested millions of dollars in organization and advertising in the state, only to finish in fourth place in the Palmetto State's traditionally decisive primary. South Carolina has chosen the eventual winner of the Republican nomination in every election since 1980, when Ronald Reagan took the state's delegates.
Yet this time around, Romney has virtually ignored the state, in favor of concentrating on New Hampshire and Florida—the two early states his campaign considers crucial to his quest to become the Republican Party's nominee for president in 2012.
That strategy may be changing, however, as Romney seeks new ways to block the rise of Newt Gingrich, who is now his chief competitor in the race for the nomination. The Romney campaign does not expect to win in Iowa, and his advisers are growing concerned that the winner of the first-in-the-nation caucuses could surge in the polls in New Hampshire, which holds its primary only one week later.
Romney is still expected to win New Hampshire, but the consensus among political observers is that he must win by a large margin, given that he's maintained a 20-point lead or more in the polls there for months. A disappointing finish in New Hampshire would make South Carolina's first-in-the-South primary pivotal for Romney, as it comes before the contests in Florida and Nevada, the two states the Romney campaign considers his best opportunity to crush the momentum of the insurgent candidate—Gingrich or whomever—who emerges from Iowa.
The most telling sign of the uphill battle Romney faces in South Carolina is the skepticism he faces among many leading Republicans who backed his bid four years ago. At this point in the 2008 campaign, Romney had announced more than 100 endorsements among key public officials, political operatives and fundraisers in the state. By comparison, he has announced fewer than 10 endorsements in the state, including Haley's, this year. And many of his key staffers from 2008 remain neutral.