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Candidate Profile: Mitt Romney - "The Presumptive Nominee"

After fending off other candidates along the campaign trial, Mitt Romney has taken the lead, with competitor Newt Gingrich right behind him. Patch has profiled each of the candidates in the race during the last five days.

When Mitt Romney entered the race to the White House in April, he was immediately declared the front-runner.

But the former Massachussets governor's campaign trail has proven that his nomination is not so assured. 

From doubts about his true conservatism to questions about his Mormon religion to criticisms about his time at Bain Capital, Romney has been fighting to stay on top. 

With one day until the South Carolina primary, . Political experts say if he does win in the Palmetto State, he'll be unstoppable.

State Treasurer Curtis in September when it was still unclear how he would fare. At a Wednesday stump in Spartanburg, Loftis said Romney's chances in South Carolina are better than ever.

"I feel great about Saturday's primary," Loftis said. "But you don't take one vote for granted. I'm going to call my own mom and dad and make sure they go vote. I think we are going to do real well.

"South Carolina is looking for a person who can turn this country around and Mitt Romney's the turnaround specialist. He's that guy."

During the summer, when other candidates were hitting the campaign trail hard in South Carolina, Romney still had not visited.

By early November, he had only made three stops in state, sending his wife, Ann, to deliver the filing fee and other necessary documents to enter the race in South Carolina. 

without establishing a ground game in South Carolina. 

With the rapidly-changing polls this primary season, it's clear what Republicans were looking for was a more-conservative alternative to Romney. 

Romney, who instituted a universal health plan as governor of Massachussetts and has been criticized as a flip-flopper on issues like abortion, is considered one of the more moderate Republican candidates — at least by his rivals. 

Romney has had to fend off his challengers, including Michele Bachmann early on, and then Rick Perry. Both Bachmann and Perry have since dropped out of the race. 

Even after the Iowa caucuses, it was unclear how much better Romney would fare than his fourth-place 2008 finish in SC. The day after Iowa, Romney learned he finished only eight votes ahead of former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum. But on Thursday, Romney would learn Santorum was actually 34 votes stronger.

Just a few days after the Iowa caucuses,  

Now, it's Gingrich, , Romney will have to fight to stay at the top. 

Romney has hit the state particularly hard this week making stops in key areas across the state.

On Wednesday, Romney aboard his campaign bus did one-on-one interviews with television crews in the Upstate. Sipping a Cherry Coke Zero, the presidential hopeful chatted and even joked, at times, with the reporter and the photographer before getting down to business.

Romney told them that the people in South Carolina want to understand how it is that he will defeat President Barack Obama and to get the nation back on track.

"They see him taking our country in a direction they don't recognize, making us more like Europe," Romney said. "I want to make us more like the America we've known in the past.

"My message is how I will get us strong again, using the Constitution as my blueprint and putting people back to work."

Romney said that regardless of who wins the state's primary on Saturday, he feels his campaign has a number of weeks and months ahead.

Romney said it is a critical time in the state and that there are several things for voters to consider: the threat in Iran, the nation's debt and poor credit rating and unemployment.

"This election is less about the process and more about getting this country on the right track, again," Romney said.

"I hope the people in South Carolina make their vote count by choosing the person they think is most capable of defeating Barack Obama and getting this country back in shape."

Two-man race

Although Romney has been in the lead since returning to the state after the New Hampshire primary, Monday night's GOP debate in Myrtle Beach may have changed the game. 

When questioned about his time at Bain Capital, Romney defended his record and touted his experience in the "real economy." 

Loftis, who has been touring the state with Romney, said that the former governor has shouldered a lot of criticism during this campaign season. Enduring a smackdown during the Fox News Presidential Debate on Monday regarding Romney's tenure at Bain Capital, Loftis said Romney has carried himself well through it all.

"He's confident, he's got broad shoulders and it doesn't faze him," Loftis said. "It's really amazing. He's a good and honorable man. He's fixed in his value system and he's going to get up and put one foot in front of the other each day."

But a tougher blow came later when he stumbled over an answer to a question about releasing his tax returns, saying that he would "probably" release them in April, but making no definite promise. (Perry had already released his tax returns, and Gingrich released his during the Charleston debate Thursday.)

Meanwhile, Gingrich finished strong in the debate, even getting a standing ovation when he defended his "food-stamp president" comments about President Barack Obama. 

The day after the debate, Romney confirmed to reporters in Florence that he would release his tax returns in April. He also said he pays about a 15 percent tax rate — less than the average citizen — because most of his income comes from past investments. Romney also brushed off the more than $370,000 he makes in speaker's fees every year as "not very much."

Lynn Sweet, Washington Bureau Chief at the Chicago Sun-Times, said Romney's "not very much" comment made $370,000 sound like "small change" and distanced him from voters. 

"The Romney campaign has taken a pummelling this week," Sweet said to an auditorum of USC students Wednesday night. "He has been cautious about releasing his tax returns because the flack that he would get for not releasing them is less than he'll get for releasing them."  

In Thursday's debate in Charleston, the tax issue came up again, with Romney at the center of the discussion. He again said he would release his tax returns for the year in April and "probably for other years as well." 

"Every time we release things drip by drip the Democrats go out with another array of attacks," Romney said, when asked why he wouldn't release the previous year's returns before S.C. voters head to the polls Saturday. 

"I obviously pay all full taxes, I'm honest in my dealings with people. People understand that. My taxes are carefully managed," he said. "I pay a lot of taxes. I've been very successful and when I have the taxes ready for this year I'll release them." 

Endorsements

Romney has gained endorsements from key South Carolina politicians. In addition to Loftis, Gov. Nikki Haley and former Ambassador to Canada and former Speaker of the House David Wilkins of Greenville have thrown their support behind Romney. 

came in December. Wilkins support came on Thursday, after Perry dropped out of the race.

Romney also has gained endorsements from , 2008 presidential candidate John McCain and .

He also has a long who support him. 

One day left

In less than one day, voters will head to the polls to decide who the GOP nominee will be. 

What would Loftis say to voters?

"Vote Mitt Romney. Most important he's a good and honorable man and I don't say that about many people, especially in politics," Loftis said. "He will turn this country around. I'm proud to call him a friend and I will be extremely proud to call him my president."

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