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Romney To Skip DeMint's S. Carolina Labor Day Candidates' Forum

Mitt Romney at Farm Boys restaurant in Chapin, SC, May, 21, 2011.
Mary Ann Chastain
Mitt Romney at Farm Boys restaurant in Chapin, SC, May, 21, 2011.

Mitt Romney signaled Wednesday that he doesn't see South Carolina as key to the presidential nomination. His campaign said he won't attend Sen. Jim DeMint's South Carolina Labor Day forum for presidential candidates.

A Romney spokesman cited scheduling conflicts. But by not attending the South Carolina event, Romney fuels speculation that his strategy may be to invest significantly less of himself in the Palmetto State than he did in 2008.

That's when he came in a poor third behind Sen. John McCain and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee after establishing an early beachhead in the state and getting DeMint's endorsement.

In 2008, Romney's Mormon faith put him at a disadvantage in the state with evangelical Christians suspicious of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. And that was despite Romney being endorsed in 2008 by the then-chancellor of Bob Jones University, the fundamentalist institution.

Huckabee, a former evangelical preacher, wound up winning many of those religious conservatives while McCain did well with military veterans in the state.

Those Christian conservatives are expected to play a large role again in the South Carolina primary, which comes after the Iowa Caucuses and the New Hampshire Primary. South Carolina will be the first test in the South.

In 2012, Romney faces a challenge for the state's evangelical Christian votes not from a former preacher turned politician but a politician with a lot of preacher in him, Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

It was no accident that Perry announced his plans to run for president in Columbia, South Carolina earlier this month.

Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota is also making a strong play for the state's evangelical voters. Both Perry and Bachmann have said they will be at DeMint's forum.

While it's certainly possible for Romney to amass the 1,212 delegates needed to win the Republican nomination without winning South Carolina, to do so he would need to upend a recent bit of Republican party history: in the past three decades no GOP candidate has gone on to win the party's nomination without first winning the South Carolina primary.

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Frank James joined NPR News in April 2009 to launch the blog, "The Two-Way," with co-blogger Mark Memmott.
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