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August 30, 2012

SC challenge: Unite for Romney

Mike Vasovski, an ardent Ron Paul supporter, swallowed hard and cast his vote for the Texas congressman during Tuesday’s presidential roll-call vote at the Republican National Convention.

The Aiken doctor was the only SC delegate to choose Paul over former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who tonight accepts the GOP’s nomination for president.

But when Vasovski returns to South Carolina, he is going to do something that he once thought impossible – try to convince others to vote for Romney in November. “I’m going to go back to Aiken, and I’m going to be solidly, 100 percent behind Mitt Romney.”

Vasovski predicts he won’t be alone.

He and others expect conservatives and Tea Party-minded SC voters to flock to Romney in November despite their distaste for many of his past policies.

“We’ve got Romney or Obama,” Vasovski said. “That’s it.”

The Ryan factor

While Romney is a prohibitive favorite to win South Carolina in November – a Democratic presidential candidate has not won the state since 1976 – his past performances on Palmetto State ballots have ranged from poor to not embarrassing.

In 2008, Romney placed fourth in the state’s GOP presidential primary, trailing eventual party nominee John McCain, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and former U.S. Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee.

Four years later, Romney fared better with SC Republicans. But he still finished a distant second to U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich as Gingrich dominated Tea Party voters and former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum took many conservative social-values voters.

Those candidates fell by the wayside in later primaries, and Gingrich and Santorum now are supporting Romney.

Many of their supporters have fallen in line behind the former Massachusetts governor as well, united by their distaste for Democratic President Barack Obama and placated – or excited – by Romney’s selection of U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin as the Republican vice presidential nominee.

A fiscal hawk who has proposed a budget that would cut federal spending, Ryan appeals to Tea Party voters. A devout Catholic – for example, he opposes to abortion in all instances, including rape, incest and the health of the mother – Ryan also appeals to social conservatives.

But the Romney-Ryan ticket still faces a challenge to bring the final branch of the SC GOP into its campaign, the 13 percent of Republican primary voters who cast their ballots for libertarian Congressman Paul.

‘Speaking from the heart’

Standing on the convention floor Tuesday with thousands of other delegates, Aiken’s Vasovski, who lost a 2010 congressional race to now-U.S. Rep. Jeff Duncan, thumbed through a copy of the 2012 Republican platform.

He saw some statements that seemed pulled straight from a Paul speech – support for a commission to investigate ways to set a fixed value for the dollar, advocacy of formal declarations of war by Congress in future conflicts and a call for an annual audit of the Federal Reserve.

Then, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie took to the stage, making a heartfelt appeal for Romney as president. “He was speaking from the heart and making a good case,” Vasovski said.

The Republican platform and Christie’s speech convinced Vasovski to support Romney in November.

However, other Paul supporters in South Carolina still seem ambivalent about Romney.

Lingering ambivalence?

State Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, was in a political bind Tuesday in Tampa.

Davis had endorsed Paul, leading up to South Carolina’s presidential primary. On Sunday, he spoke at a Paul rally in Florida with 10,000 Paul supporters looking on and applauding.

But Davis was at the national convention and bound by party rules to cast his vote for the GOP’s presidential nomination for Romney. (SC Republican Party rules require delegates from congressional districts to support the candidate who won their district in the primary.)

On the convention floor Tuesday, Davis expressed his reluctance to cast a ballot for Romney to SC Republican Party chairman Chad Connelly.

“I want to cast my vote for Ron Paul,” Davis said to Connelly.

Connelly reminded Davis of the rules but promised to include in party records that Davis wanted to vote for Paul.

“I understood,” Davis said. “Rules are rules.”

Like Vasovski, Davis remains hopeful the Republican Party will work to include Paul’s ideas – and, most importantly, his many young supporters – as it moves forward.

College students used to all be liberal Democrats, Davis said Wednesday. Now, there’s a growing subsection of young, passionate Paul supporters, looking for a way to get involved in the political process.

“I look at them as a way for (Republicans) to reach out,” he said. “We can either get with this movement or we’re going to lose these people.”

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