New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie this week is testing his appeal in South Carolina, where voters remain skeptical after his controversial embrace of President Barack Obama when he was touring the Superstorm Sandy-hit Jersey Shore just days before the 2012 election.
"I knew what it meant. I knew what it did," Katon Dawson, a former Republican state chairman in South Carolina and political consultant, told The Wall Street Journal.
"It played well in New Jersey, but didn't play well in a lot of places," said Dawson, who supports Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a potential challenger to Christie for the 2016 GOP nomination. "People didn't like it here."
But South Carolina's deeply conservative voters are concerned about more than that hug. They say they are also doubtful about Christie's views on abortion, gay rights, and his roots in the North, as well as whether he can win the presidency.
Christie's personal, bombastic style may also not play well in the Southern state, where politics can get heated but politicians remain publicly polite.
"The style is not quite right for us," said Mark Thompkins, a political science professor at the University of South Carolina. "It's an easy takeaway that he would struggle pretty heavily here."
Christie only visited Charleston during his trip into South Carolina, where he visited a downtown eatery, Moe's Burritos, and took questions while praising South Carolina Republican Gov. Nikki Haley, who was also at the restaurant.
But while the crowd was friendly, many were critical all the same.
"He seems like a Mitt Romney middle-of-the-road kind of guy," said radio talk show host Colette Harrington, 45, a talk-radio host. "We don't need someone else like that."
South Carolina voters are usually a good predictor of GOP nominations. Except in 2012, when the state voted for Newt Gingrich, primary voters had picked the eventual GOP nominee in elections over three decades.
Democrats in South Carolina did not welcome Christie to their state, where the nation's first Southern primary is held, reports The Star Ledger
, and were quick to criticize Haley for not expanding Medicaid in the state, while Christie was praising her.
But Christie is just one of a long line of potential Republican presidential candidates visiting South Carolina to woo voters, The Wall Street Journal reports.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz on Monday was in Columbia, where he attacked the Obama administration during a speech at a fundraiser. In addition, Perry, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal have all visited South Carolina in recent months.
State Republican Chairman Matt Moore said Rubio and Paul have stirred the party the most so far, but Christie may still be competitive, and Christie's top political adviser, Mike DuHaime, agrees.
"His leadership skills and his candor have allowed him to win the votes of people who don't necessarily agree with him on every single issue," said Mike DuHaime, his top political adviser.
Christie, who chairs the Republican Governors Association and has also visited Iowa and New Hampshire in that role, was to head back to New Hampshire on Wednesday.
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