Crowds reflect fortunes of GOP candidates during S.C. swing

Sen. Marco Rubio meets with supporters Wednesday night.

The crowds that turned out Wednesday for campaign appearances by Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Ohio Gov. John Kasich in South Carolina’s capital reflected the Republican presidential candidates’ divergent fortunes.

A lively crowd of at least 200 people filled Rubio’s newly opened South Carolina campaign office in Columbia on Wednesday evening to hear him speak. Earlier Wednesday, about 50 supporters attended a town hall at Brookland Baptist Banquet Center in West Columbia to hear Kasich make his case for why he should be the party’s nominee.

Kasich has had difficulty building on the single-digit support he’s been polling since announcing his candidacy, while Rubio has been rising, mostly due to his strong performance in GOP debates. Among likely Republican voters, 3 percent said they were likely to vote for Kasich, according to as of Nov. 4. Rubio was polling at 11.8 percent.

Both candidates were in the state fresh off the fourth GOP debate held Tuesday night in Milwaukee.

Kasich told the crowd he was fighting to increase his visibility at the national debates.

“I was like a truth-teller (last night),” he said of his debate performance. “There are some things I have to say and I was very pleased. I was in the second debate and people didn’t even know I was there ... so showing up is important.”

Rubio touted his connection to South Carolina, saying that when he ran for U.S. Senate five years ago the only senator who would meet with him was former South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint.

“I’m excited to be here to open up this office,” he said. “We plan to be here quite often ... in the state because the nomination could very well be decided in this state.” South Carolina’s first-in-the-South GOP primary on Feb. 20 follows the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire’s primary.

Port Royal resident John Lebovitz and his wife made the trip to the Columbia area Wednesday to see both Kasich and Rubio.

“I’m seeing as many of them as I can,” he said of the Republican candidates, adding that he’s also gone to hear Democratic candidates.

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Lebovitz said his preferred candidate, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, was not polling well, so if he had to vote today he would go with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.

“He’s the most conservative and that’s important to me,” he said.

Reach Maya T. Prabhu at (843) 509-8933.

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