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Keller @ Large: If Romney Wins South Carolina, It’s Over

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Mitt Romney. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Mitt Romney. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

WBZ-TV's Jon Keller Jon Keller
Jon Keller is WBZ-TV News' Political Analyst, and his "Keller A...
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BOSTON (CBS) – After Mitt Romney’s sweeping victory in New Hampshire, his competitors were quick to head south for the next battleground, South Carolina.

That primary is one week from Saturday.

Romney faltered badly in South Carolina four years ago, and that gives hope to several of the candidates Romney left in the dust in New Hampshire Tuesday night.

Then again, as the New Hampshire results suggested, 2012 is turning out to be very different from 2008.

Watch Keller @ Large:

Now, it’s put up or shut up time for Newt Gingrich, hoping South Carolina voters will salvage his faltering candidacy.

“I think over the next 10 days, we will consolidate the conservatives across South Carolina. And I think as we do that, we will win the South Carolina primary and that will set the stage for a very exciting Florida,” said Gingrich.

So, Gingrich is pouring millions into email ads and aggressive TV ads attacking Mitt Romney.

“The support of conservatives here, evangelicals, independents; we were winning among all those groups. So if I can duplicate that elsewhere, I could become the nominee,” said Romney.

But, South Carolina isn’t New Hampshire. Will the clout of evangelicals and other social conservatives boost Gingrich, Rick Perry or Rick Santorum as they run to Romney’s right?

Wesley Donehue, a South Carolina GOP consultant, worked on Romney’s ’08 campaign in the state, when voters saw him as too liberal. But, he says that’s not a problem four years later.

“This time around, we just want someone who can beat Barack Obama,” said Donehue. “I don’t think you have to be the most conservative, but you still have to be conservative.”

If Romney wins in South Carolina, the race is over.

We say that for two main reasons: no Republican has ever won the party’s nomination without winning South Carolina, and the next primary state is Florida, where Romney’s big financial and organizational advantages could prove decisive.

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