NORTH CHARLESTON, South Carolina -- Hours before polling opens in South Carolina, Team Romney is trying furiously to regain control of their message -- which means they've been arguing that the controversy over the candidate's undisclosed tax returns is nothing more than an invention of political insiders and pundits.
"The people of South Carolina are not talking about tax returns. They're not," Governor Nikki Haley, a Romney supporter, told press earlier today. She continued: "That's me talking as the governor of South Carolina, talking to my people. Everybody knows someone without a job. Everybody is touched by somebody that doesn't have a job. That's what they care about. They don't care about tax returns."
And yet, even at Romney campaign stops across the state, supporters expressed concern over the situation.
When M.J. Judge, a Romney supporter who attended a rally here, was told of Haley's claims that locals don't care about this issue, she looked almost taken aback.
"Oh my God, no," she said. "They do. They really do."
Don Bethman said he's unlikely to be swayed personally by anything in the candidate's tax returns, but he still views it as a legitimate issue to raise.
"He's got to be able to respond effectively to that," Bethman said. "He sort of just like tries to stop it all. Come right out and hit it."
Another Romney supporter, who would only identify himself by his first name, Howard, said he likes Romney's moderate record and business experience, and plans to vote for him. But the campaign's undisciplined response to this controversy has raised doubts for him about Romney's leadership.
"I'm surprised they haven't taken care of it by now," he lamented. "They've just handled it really poorly."
McKay Coppins is a senior writer for the BuzzFeed News politics team, and the author of The Wilderness, about the battle over the future of the Republican Party.
Contact McKay Coppins at email@example.com.
Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.