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South Carolina voters will look at the results in Iowa and New Hampshire before selecting a Republican presidential contender on Jan. 21, according to state Republican chairman Chad Connelly.

Yet first-in-the-South’s primary voters will "give all of the candidates a true test of their ability to beat President Obama," he said.

The Palmetto State has picked the eventual Republican nominee since 1980.
South Carolina’s primary — considered by many to be the first real test of this election year – is open to all, regardless of party affiliation. Absentee voting began Dec. 12.

Some GOP contenders moved into the state even before New Hampshire’s voting began, hoping to jump-start stalled campaigns or to challenge Republican front-runner Mitt Romney on more neutral ground.

David Williams of Spartanburg said support for Romney is strong among his friends and family. Jon Huntsman is well liked but largely unknown, he said; Ron Paul’s anti-abortion ads may boost his popularity, but Rick Perry is a "dead man walking."

The battle for second place, Williams said, seems to be between Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum.

But Gingrich has a problem with female voters, he added: "My female friends and relatives have an almost visceral distaste for him."

In contrast, former South Carolina congressman John Napier said Santorum is "a good candidate" but Gingrich, "at this time, in this circumstance, against this president, is "the right man."

A Public Policy Polling survey on Tuesday showed Romney heading into South Carolina with a CLICK HERE FOR REST OF STORY

Salena Zito
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review Political Reporter