Southern Republicans — the backbone of the GOP — are not sold on any of their party's possible high-profile presidential candidates in 2012, a finding that could be good news for S.C. Gov. Mark Sanford.
Sanford rubbed shoulders at a Columbia health care forum Thursday with former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who remains highly regarded by many in the Republican Party.
It was another moment in the spotlight for Sanford, who has generated buzz about his 2012 presidential prospects with his frequent television appearances and outspoken opposition to Democratic President Barack Obama's federal stimulus plan.
Southerners overwhelmingly back Sanford's opposition to the stimulus plan, according to a new poll of South Carolina and 10 other Southern states conducted for Winthrop University and ETV. Results of that poll were released Thursday.
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For Republicans, any successful run for the White House starts in the South, a bedrock of conservatism where GOP candidates have fared well.
Gingrich, a potential candidate, said he thinks Sanford would be a formidable candidate.
"Among conservative Republicans, he has a real following around the country because of the toughness and the courage he's shown on spending," said the former Republican congressman from Georgia. "He certainly would be on anybody's list of potential candidates, depending on what he wants to do."
Right now, what Sanford wants to do is use stimulus money on debt reduction, if he must use stimulus money at all. He has argued the stimulus plan, passed by the Democratic Congress and signed into law by Obama, is bad policy that will saddle the country with massive debt.
Nearly 61 percent of Southerners polled agree with that assessment.
"We're writing checks we can't cash," said Mike Clune, a 61-year-old manufacturing salesman from Murrells Inlet. "I'm uncomfortable with all of the fixes the government is attempting to make."
There was a strongly partisan line in the poll responses, with just under 87 percent of Republicans saying the stimulus plan calls for too much spending. About 50 percent of Democrats surveyed in the 11 Southern states – who have a member of their party in the White House – said the spending amounts are about right.
But Sanford's opposition to the stimulus strikes a chord with fellow Southerners.
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