With New Hampshire in the rearview mirror, the two Texans in the Republican presidential campaign face vastly differing sets of challenges as the race turns toward the first Southern primary in South Carolina.
Rep. Ron Paul continued to assert his surprising show of strength in the 2012 presidential race, finishing second to Mitt Romney in New Hampshire with 24 percent of the vote just one week after he placed third in Iowa.
But some experts say the Lake Jackson congressman could have a harder task in South Carolina, where large numbers of social conservatives and military families may be hostile to his libertarian views and unorthodox positions on foreign policy.
For Gov. Rick Perry, who made South Carolina the launching pad for his now-struggling candidacy, the state's Jan. 21 primary could be a last stand if he fails to muster a desperately needed boost. Perry, who abandoned his New Hampshire campaign to focus on South Carolina, finished sixth in the Granite State with 1 percent of the vote.
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"Tonight's results in New Hampshire show the race for 'conservative alternative' to Mitt Romney remains wide open," Perry declared. "I believe being the only nonestablishment outsider in the race, the proven fiscal and social conservative and proven job creator will win the day in South Carolina."
After a fifth-place finish in the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses prompted him to consider ending his campaign, Perry has instead been waging a go-for-broke scramble in South Carolina, with a multicity tour, ads and an aggressive fund-raising appeal. He plans to hit five cities today after getting a head start on other candidates who were preoccupied with New Hampshire.
Paul, who told supporters that he is "nibbling" at Romney's heels, planned a noon rally in Columbia, the capital city, as he and the rest of the Republican pack storm into the Palmetto State for a bruising campaign.
Romney, a former governor of Massachusetts, is hoping to use his unprecedented back-to-back victories in Iowa and New Hampshire to surge to a third win in South Carolina and create an air of inevitability in his bid for the Republican nomination. But the other candidates are expected to repeat withering attacks on Romney's business background and other aspects of his record in an attempt to slow his bid to become the party's opponent to President Barack Obama.
Perry is competing with former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum for the mantle of conservative alternative to the more moderate Romney.
Paul has occupied a different space in the nomination battle, coupling conservative demands for slashing spending and restricting government with libertarian opposition to wars and numerous regulations such as drug laws.
Perry chose Charleston, S.C., to announce his entry into the race Aug. 13 and quickly soared to the top of the polls before stumbling with subpar debate performances and other gaffes. Shortly after the Iowa caucuses, he told supporters that he would return to Texas to reassess his campaign, but he changed his mind the next day and vowed to press ahead into South Carolina.
In two weekend debates in New Hampshire, Perry seemed to be telescoping his message to conservative voters in South Carolina and other states as he denounced Obama as a "socialist" and styled himself as a Tea Party candidate and an anti-Washington outsider. He has repeated his anti-establishment themes during stops in South Carolina.
Perry, who talks openly about his Christian faith, hopes to attract South Carolina evangelicals and social conservatives who, by some estimates, comprise anywhere from 40 to 60 percent of Republican primary voters.
But several analysts said that Perry's efforts to attract social conservatives and other key constituencies is severely hurt by his back-of-the-pack stature, with many voters more likely to turn toward a candidate who is better positioned to win the nomination.
Perry, who was running in the upper 30s in South Carolina shortly after entering the race, was polling 5 percent in two recent surveys.
Paul, buoyed by a loyal and growing following, told supporters, "There is no way to stop the momentum we have started." But some experts said he may have trouble keeping his surge going into the first Southern primary.
"He's going to have more trouble in South Carolina," said Dave Woodard, a Clemson University political science professor who conducts the Palmetto Poll.
Woodard said Paul's opposition to sanctions against Iran and to U.S. involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq could be unpopular in South Carolina, which has "a strong military presence."
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