Perry-Romney battle could come down to S.C. voters

Texas Gov. Rick Perry

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Texas Gov. Rick Perry were positioned front and center in Wednesday night's GOP debate -- just as they are atop the national polls.

And South Carolina Republicans realize the pair could enter this state's presidential primary early next year with the chance to deliver a knock-out blow.

S.C. GOP Chairman Chad Connelly said he thinks it's too early to boil down the race between Romney and Perry, but he noted that all candidates still in the running after New Hampshire will want to win here.

"We've picked the eventual nominee for 30 years," he said. "It's going to be a matter of who comes to South Carolina the most and connects the best."

Perry created goodwill here by officially kicking off his national campaign in Charleston, but Romney is not giving up.

"I'm trying to get candidates in Berkeley County, and Romney's folks are being a little more responsive," said Berkeley County GOP Chairman Tim Callanan.

"Up until this point, they've kind of ignored South Carolina."

Georgetown GOP Chairman Jim Jerow said just based on current polling, the likelihood of a Perry-Romney showdown here early next year "is 50 percent or better."

Jerow said he is happy to see the field winnow, and would like to see Republicans settle on one candidate sooner rather than later, so they can focus on President Barack Obama instead of each other.

"There's too much at stake for our country, for our future, for our children and grandchildren," Jerow said.

"What I'm hearing is that people are getting semi-tired of the debates. They would like the (Republican National Committee) to take the candidates, go in the room, lock the door and tell them who the nominee will be. Then we could get behind them 125 percent."

Callanan said he wants to see the contest stay competitive.

"I'm not saying people aren't excited. People are excited. They're just open-minded about it," he said. "Could a second-tier candidate pull off a Nikki Haley? I don't know. Someone's message may really resonate if the front-runners act too cautious."

Connelly said he still is monitoring other states' plans, but hopes to announce the date of South Carolina's GOP presidential primary within the next few weeks.