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Perry, Romney tailor big speeches to different S.C. voters

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Neither Rick Perry nor Mitt Romney have spent much time here, but both candidates are using South Carolina as the staging ground for an essential campaign event: the big policy speech.

Perry introduced his flat-tax proposal today in Gray Court, in the Upstate, while Romney earlier rolled his out his labor and foreign policy visions in Charleston.

The locations are picture-perfect backdrops for the candidates’ topics of choice. Perry delivered his tax-policy speech at the ISO Poly plastics factory, after touring some of its facilities. Romney delivered his labor speech near the Boeing Dreamliner factory and his foreign-policy speech in front of an audience of uniformed cadets at the Citadel military college.

Giving big speeches here also lets candidates hit South Carolina while doing more retail campaigning in the first two primary states. Heavy media coverage is practically guaranteed, especially in the local markets, where the speeches take place, whose viewers might be particularly connected to the topic: employees at other Upstate manufacturing plants, for example.

“At this point, Iowa and New Hampshire are the first two, and you’ve got to pay attention in sequential order,” said Scott Buchanan, political science professor at The Citadel. “You’re not ignoring [South Carolina] but at the same time you’re not spending an inordinate amount of time here.”

The regions in which Perry and Romney give their speeches also happen to be politically strategic, with Perry speaking today in the voter-rich, socially conservative Upstate and Romney’s speeches taking place in the Lowcountry, where social issues are less prominent.

“They’re both playing to the area of the state where they feel that they can mine some votes,” said Neal Thigpen, former political science professor at Francis Marion University.

The Upstate region, where Perry delivered his tax speech, also contains a significant number of Evangelical voters – a key demographic for Perry. In Laurens County, where ISO Poly is located, 38% of primary voters picked Mike Huckabee, who ran as a social conservative, in 2008, while Romney netted less than 8%.

While Perry chose the Upstate to deliver his tax speech, Romney has given his two major South Carolina policy addresses in Charleston – three-and-a-half hours south of Laurens County.

Charleston has become a poster city for union disputes, given the National Labor Relations Board’s feud with Boeing over its Dreamliner facility there, which the NLRB says was relocated from Washington State to punish striking workers. It came as little surprise, then, that Romney picked the North Charleston city hall to unveil his labor policy, just after touring the Boeing facility.

Equally symbolic was the site of Romney’s foreign policy speech, The Citadel. The former Massachusetts governor unveiled his plan for an “American Century” surrounded by rows of uniformed cadets. While Charleston provided Romney with fitting backdrops, the city (and its namesake county) also contains a large number of voters that might be more inclined to vote for him.

While Romney came in fourth overall in the 2008 primary here, he came in second in Charleston County, with almost 19% of the vote. When asked about site selection, Romney’s South Carolina Director David Raad said the venues were germane to the issues that were discussed, adding that the campaign would chose different locations for speeches if they fit the topic.