COLUMBIA, South Carolina -- Addressing the most enthusiastic crowd he's seen in days, Mitt Romney kicked off his effort in the Palmetto State with a speech deriding President Obama's record--and received a spirited defense from the state's high-profile governor.
Romney was introduced by Governor Nikki Haley, whose highly coveted endorsement recently went to the Republican frontrunner. In her brief remarks, she defended the candidate against attacks on his business record.
"I am proud of all our Republican candidates, and proud of the people who have taken the time to come and campaign in South Carolina," she said. "But we have a real problem when we have Republicans talking like dang Democrats against the free market."
Romney made no mention of primary opponents, focusing instead on Obama's failure to bring jobs back to the state.
"Unemployment at 9.9 percent? Still?" Romney said, referring to South Carolina's jobless rate, at a spacious banquet hall here. "Remember when President OBama was going to help people get back to work?... It was going to be a new era in Washington."
At that point, someone in the audience shouted, "He lied!" echoing the famous State of the Union outburst from S.C. Rep. Joe Wilson. The crowd laughed.
"There are a lot of people in South Carolina who are hurting tonight," Romney continued. "There are people who a few years ago were wondering where they'd send their kids to college. Now they're wondering how they're going to put a meal on the table."
Much of the rhetoric was borrowed from past stump speeches, but Romney has addressed few crowds this jazzed. Accustomed to speaking in front of New Hampshire crowds that had seen him in their state for years, Romney seemed almost taken aback by how responsive the attendees were. Several times, his words were drowned out by applause where he expected none, and rally-goers repeatedly added their own impromptu exclamations to the event.
At one point, a woman shouted, "You gotta say 'ya'll' now! You're in the South!"
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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