Is It The Economy, Stupid?

(CBS)
From CBS News' Scott Conroy:

OKLAHOMA CITY -- A dustup between the candidate and an AP reporterprovided the fireworks at a Mitt Romney press conference in Columbia, S.C., this morning, but there was also some major campaign news.

Romney announced that he would release within the next two days an economic stimulus plan, intended to give the American economy a short-term boost.

"I continue to believe that the issue that people are focusing on is the issue of jobs and our economy and how we make sure this economy stays strong," Romney said.

Growing concern about the local and national economy was an essential element to Romney's crucial victory in Tuesday's Michigan primary. Since his disappointing second-place finish in Iowa, Romney has retooled his campaign's message to focus more on his background as a successful businessman and turnaround artist and less on social issues.

"We're in a competition with other parts of the world that we've never competed with for good jobs, and we're going to see jobs continue to leave this country unless we have a president who understands how the economy works and is willing to fight for every single job," Romney said. "I know there is a defeatist, pessimist attitude that says, 'Hey, those jobs are gone—they're gone forever.' Well, I'm not going to sign up for that. I'm going to always be optimistic."

Romney cancelled his two scheduled events in South Carolina this morning due to a rare winter storm in the region. He's now shifting his campaign to Nevada, with the hope that he can pick up a win in Saturday's caucus there, while John McCain, Mike Huckabee and Fred Thompson battle it out for first place in South Carolina. Both states vote on the same day.

Although Romney is not putting as much emphasis on South Carolina as most of his GOP rivals, his campaign still thinks he can do well there. South Carolina State Director Terry Sullivan told reporters that while other candidates garner the majority of their Palmetto State support from specific niches within the Republican party, Romney's message reaches across "a swath of voters."

"We do well with Republicans," Sullivan said.

Sullivan said that the campaign made about 15,000 calls to South Carolina voters yesterday and that there is still a chance Romney could surge to a surprisingly strong finish in the state.

Sullivan also pointed to a pro-Huckabee group called "Common Sense" that he says has been making push polling calls to South Carolina voters. According to Sullivan, the callers ask voters who don't intend to cast ballots for Huckabee about what their most important issue is and then distribute false information in the form of a question.

For example, Sullivan said, if a likely Romney voter's chief concern is the status of marriage, the caller might ask, "Did you know that Governor Romney wants to legalize gay marriage?"

Sullivan said that he believes the push polling calls might backfire against the candidate they are intended to help, since savvy voters know better than to believe misleading messages.
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    Scott Conroy is a National Political Reporter for RealClearPolitics and a contributor for CBS News.

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