COLUMBIA, S.C., Jan. 10 (UPI) -- Republican presidential hopefuls are looking to the Jan. 21 South Carolina primary, considered by pundits as a key state in this roller-coaster political cycle.
Even before New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation primary Tuesday, presidential wannabes and their surrogates were stumping in the Palmetto State, trying to convince voters of their conservative cred and electability, The New York Times reported Tuesday.
The state's influential Tea Party movement, which helped elect Republican Gov. Nikki Haley, became splintered after she endorsed former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, considered by conservative voters as too moderate. However, observers say it isn't clear whether those voters will rally around a more conservative candidate, such as former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, quickly enough to upend Romney, who has a lead in recent South Carolina polls.
In interviews with the Times, many voters say the economy and jobs top their political scorecards ahead of social issues such as gay marriage and abortion.
"The economy remains the biggest thing for me," said Jack Broome, a retired construction worker from Myrtle Beach who said he hasn't decided which candidate he'll support. "Everybody's hurting and we need some jobs created now. I am only interested in who's going to be best at that right now."
Karen Martin, who leads the Spartanburg, S.C., Tea Party, said she's still undecided and doesn't plan to endorse anyone even after she settles on a candidate.
"If there was one candidate who I felt was so compelling that it felt clear to me that he is the guy, I would endorse," she said. "For me, that hasn't happened. There is not a candidate who is compelling enough for me to break out of my neutrality. It's so up-in-the-air right now. The only thing I'm hearing consistently is 'not Romney.'"
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