With the proverbial fork stuck in Iowa, the GOP herd galloped off to next-up New Hampshire, but the real battleground lies in Dixie: Mitt Romney is all but guaranteed a victory in New Hampshire, so his GOP challengers' only chance is to expose the frontrunner's moderate Achilles heel in conservative South Carolina on Jan. 21, reports Politico. "South Carolina will become the ground on which an 'ABM' movement starts to coalesce—the anybody-but-Mitt crowd," predicts one GOP strategist. Romney's rivals agree, with Newt Gingrich calling the gap between the former Massachusetts governor's ideology and "Southern conservatism, oh, about the distance from Boston to Charleston."
Michele Bachmann's exit yesterday narrowed the field of conservatives, but with Gingrich and Rick Santorum both sporting right-wing bona fides and Rick Perry still in the race, it may be tough for a single candidate to claim the anti-Romney vote. And things aren't actually looking terrible for Romney in the southern state: He has the backing of Gov. Nikki Haley, pulled in 15% in the Palmetto State four years ago, and has momentum and money on his side. "South Carolina and Florida are the nails in the coffin, which is why the right is so mad—they see it coming, but the dominoes are falling just right for Mitt as they did for [John] McCain," one Republican House rep tells Politico. (Read more Election 2012 stories.)