The Ticket

Rained-on Romney worries South Carolina victory could be washed away

Holly Bailey
The Ticket

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(Charles Dharapak/AP)

GILBERT, S.C.—The scene at Harmon Tree Farm didn't feel like the usual Mitt Romney rally. Situated next to an old barn dressed up with a large American flag, there was a live band performing old AC/DC classics, including "You Shook Me All Night Long," prompting supporters to hoot and dance.

"Shake it girl!" the band's frontwoman called out to a wildly dancing lady in the audience at one point.

Just before Romney's campaign bus pulled up, the torrential rain began. Some people ran for cover, to their cars and to a nearby building, while others simply stood in the rain shielding themselves with blue and white Romney for President signs.

As Romney disembarked from his bus to his now familiar entrance song—"Born Free" by Kid Rock—an aide tried to shield the candidate from the pouring rain, but he pushed forward, shaking hands and waving at supporters as he took the stage in the pouring rain.

After an introduction by Nikki Haley, the South Carolina governor whose dark hair was soon sopping wet, Romney took the microphone, his face glistening with moisture but his slick hair unmussed.

"Wow! Pull out the umbrellas," Romney declared, eying the dark skies.

Motioning to folks who were waving his campaign signs, he said, "Use those signs for what they were made for: To keep your head dry!"

"My oh my," he bellowed, as the rain poured.

On any other day, Romney's campaign might have tried to move his rally elsewhere. But the image of the candidate stumping in the rain for every last vote wasn't so bad for a campaign now worried that Saturday's pivotal primary here won't go their way.

Romney stood on stage for nearly 15 minutes and shook hands along the soaked rope line for another 20 minutes more. His aides and closest supporters looked on, at least one admitting some anxiety about Romney's standing among voters here on primary eve.

"I feel good," Nathan Ballentine, a Republican state representative and one of Romney's early supporters in the state, told Yahoo News. "But it's going to be close… It was always going to be close."

There has been a change in the air around the Romney campaign in recent days. When Romney arrived in the state 10 days ago, he was coming off his victory in New Hampshire and what was then a win in Iowa. On the stump today, he acknowledged for the first time that he had suffered a "slim defeat" in the Hawkeye State—a notable admission given his campaign refused to describe his phone call to Rick Santorum on Thursday about Iowa's election results as a "concession."

Stuart Stevens, a Romney adviser, told reporters Thursday that the campaign had always viewed South Carolina as a tough race—noting that Romney had placed fourth here four years ago. He said he expected the primary go well beyond Florida, where he added that Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum were also waging "tough" campaigns.

In Gilbert, Romney also seemed to join in setting expectations for Saturday's election, emphasizing to reporters that he came to the state with the odds stacked against him.

"I had a lot of ground to make up ...  Speaker Gingrich is from a neighboring state, well-known, popular in the state, so I knew we'd have a long road ahead of us, and frankly to be in a neck-and-neck race at this last moment is kind of exciting," Romney said. "I think I said from the very beginning South Carolina is an uphill battle for us."

The candidate added that even if he doesn't finish first in Saturday's primary, he expects to walk away with "a lot of delegates."

"We have a long process ahead of us," he said.

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