Opinion: Is the South Carolina primary the last place to stop Romney’s momentum?

With Mitt Romney’s win in the New Hampshire primary Tuesday, candidates and activists are looking at the Jan. 21 South Carolina primary as a deciding moment in the 2012 race.

“The Palmetto State, with large numbers of evangelicals and social conservatives, is considered less-stable terrain than New Hampshire for Romney, a Mormon and former governor of Massachusetts. It is likely the last opportunity for former House speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.), former senator Rick Santorum (Pa.) or Texas Gov. Rick Perry to revive their flagging campaigns,” writes mitt-romneyThe Post’s Karen Tumulty.

There is concern in the party that if candidates go negative in South Carolina, it will affect Romney’s ability to campaign in the general election. Newt Gingrich is already airing a tough ad aimed at Romney, write Amy Gardner and Nia-Malika Henderson.

“Gingrich is spending nearly $250,000 in South Carolina airing a brutal ad detailing Romney’s record supporting pro-abortion positions. And a pro-Gingrich super PAC has promised to spend nearly $3.5 million between now and the Jan. 21 primary making the case that Romney bankrupted companies and laid off thousands of workers as a management consultant with Bain Capital.”

South Carolina campaigns have a long history of being dirty and damaging, writes Steve Hendrix.

“With just 10 days to go before the Jan. 21 primary and some conservatives openly desperate to halt the momentum of former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, voters and political operatives alike are girding for the kind of whisper campaigns, viral innuendo and dubious personal attacks that have made South Carolina a state where the politics are as harsh as the tea is sweet.”

Some conservative activists oppose Romney for what they believe are his more moderate social views, including prior support for abortion rights. Others believe his background in finance and corporate consulting align him too closely with Wall Street.

The activists are having a difficult time agreeing on which rival to support in South Carolina, however, write Tumulty and Peter Wallsten.

“The tension is exacerbated by the deep divisions between two key GOP wings: tea party groups yearning for a pure small-government conservative, and evangelical Christians who want a loyal social conservative.”

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