Charleston-area Republicans expressed relief Wednesday that Mitt Romney captured the GOP presidential nomination this week, and said they doubted that the lengthy primary will hurt his chances here this fall.
Henry Fishburne, a former Charleston city councilman and early Romney supporter, said the protracted primary made Romney a better debater and introduced him to voters in many more states.
“I think the process turned into an advantage for him. I don’t see any negatives,” he said. “I think it probably was hard on him and his family personally, but I think it’s to his benefit.”
State Rep. Chip Limehouse, R-Charleston, who supported Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former Speaker Newt Gingrich before coming around to Romney six weeks ago, agreed.
“The long Republican primary process is ultimately going to help our nominee,” he said. “In the past, it’s been an Iowa caucus, a New Hampshire primary, South Carolina’s primary, and boom, it’s done. The rest of the country doesn’t get to participate. This has helped generate a lot more grass-roots support for Romney.”
They downplayed concern that South Carolina, which backed Gingrich over Romney in its January primary, might be cool for him come November. “Even though he didn’t win South Carolina, South Carolina is a conservative state,” Charleston County GOP Chairwoman Lin Bennett said. “We’re going to vote for the more conservative candidate, no matter who it is, so he’s not going to have any problem here.”
Charm Altman, president of the state’s Federation of Republican Women, backed Rick Santorum during the state’s primary battle. She said South Carolina voters’ questions about Romney’s Mormon faith likely will not play a big role this fall.
“I’m not asking him to save my soul. I’m asking him to run this country. My soul is my business. He’s not going to try to convert people,” she said, adding that Mormonism “is a Christian faith, whether you understand it or not.”
Charleston County Democratic Party Chairman Richard Hricik said Romney’s clinching the nomination bodes well for President Barack Obama because of Romney’s reputation for flip-flopping on many issues.
“The joke goes that a conservative, a liberal and an independent walk into a bar and a voter goes, ‘Oh, hi Mitt,’?” Hricik said.
All Republicans agreed that as attention turns toward Nov. 6, Romney should focus his message on the economy, jobs and the national debt to win against Obama.
“Jobs and the economy, that’s what’s on everyone’s mind,” Bennett said. “It’s in a mess, and people just want to take it back to normal, whatever that will be. To do that, they’ve got to go to work.”