As a new poll shows one in three South Carolina Republicans still undecided just a few days before Saturday's presidential primary, the four leading candidates criss-crossed the state to court that potentially deciding slice of the pie.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney campaigned along the coast, including a mid-afternoon stop in Charleston, while former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee held a rally at The Citadel on Wednesday night to wrap up his day.
Former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson campaigned at several stops across the state, but his schedule doesn't include a return trip to the coast. Arizona Sen. John McCain also is concentrating on the Midlands and Upstate in the next few days but plans to cap his South Carolina swing with a rally at Patriots Point on Friday afternoon.
Their efforts come after Romney's Michigan win Tuesday rescrambled the GOP race here, a race that already was wide open. A Clemson University poll conducted between Jan. 9 and 15 found that 36 percent of voters who had voted in at least one of the past four Republican primaries said they are following the news but remain undecided.
That type of voter seemed to be embodied by
Sherrie Tallent of Johns Island, who met Huckabee Wednesday and liked his position on defending the U.S. Border Patrol. Asked if she would vote for Huckabee, she hesitated.
"If I could take a piece of all the Republican candidates and put them together, we'd have the perfect candidate," she said.
The same poll confirmed that McCain has the edge here, but with only 29 percent. Huckabee got 22 percent; Romney 13 percent; Thompson 10 percent.
The up-for-grabs nature of the race was underscored by two factors: 17 percent of those responding to the poll said that if the election were held today, they would still be undecided; and nearly half who named a candidate said they could change their mind. The sample included 450 voters with a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percent.
About 200 Romney supporters and onlookers gathered at the Seabreeze Office Building for an hour Wednesday to await his arrival.
"I'm hearing wherever I go that Washington is broken," Romney said, ticking off illegal immigration, Social Security, pork-barrel spending, health-care costs and middle-class taxes as evidence. He vowed to strengthen the economy by keeping taxes down, by investing in new technology and by halting illegal immigration but encouraging legal immigration.
Huckabee spoke for 30 minutes to a crowd of about 200 at The Citadel and drew a big cheer from Fair Tax supporters when he talked about the need to get rid of the IRS.
He also criticized Washington for not being able to track immigrants, noting that about half of the nation's 12 million illegal immigrants arrived legally only to overstay their welcome, but all of the 9/11 hijackers also entered legally. He wondered why the federal government couldn't track them while Amazon.com could track a book he orders from the warehouse to his doorstep.
With Thompson's campaign riding on this state's primary, he continued to hammer away Wednesday at every contender in this early voting state, including Hillary Clinton.
While campaigning in Spartanburg, McCain sharply defended his opposition eight years ago to the flying of the Confederate battle flag over the S.C. Statehouse, brushing aside protests that dogged him at campaign events and suggesting most people in the state don't want the issue reopened.
Meanwhile, some candidates also had their friends at work. Stumping for McCain, his friend and colleague on the armed services committee, Sen. Joseph Lieberman, an independent Democrat from Connecticut, drew about 75 people to Brith Sholom Beth Israel Orthodox Synagogue on Wednesday morning.
Addressing the mostly Jewish gathering, Lieberman said the human dignity and rule of law that have made the United States great are today under threat from "Islamist extremist fundamentalism." He argued that McCain is the best man to become the next president during this time of war.