As S.C. State Treasurer Curtis Loftis sees it, Republicans have two choices in the coming months as the GOP seeks a nominee to challenge President Barack Obama.
They can choose to be winners — or losers.
And the winners, he says, will nominate Mitt Romney.
One of the state's most bedrock conservatives would seem an odd choice to back a candidate many hardcore GOPers consider a faux Republican. But Loftis warns that if Republicans let ideology trump pragmatism, then Obama has already won.
"If you are a conservative Republican and you want to get rid of Barack Obama, I think Mitt Romney is your man," Loftis said in an interview this week with Patch. "If I'm a betting man and I'm putting my money on the table, I'm betting on Mitt Romney.
"If we [in South Carolina] focus on someone who can't win the general election, we haven't exercised our responsibilities. We may feel better about ourselves, we may feel like we're more pure in our conservatism, but if you are effectively re-electing one of the most liberal presidents in our history, what good is it?"
Loftis feels so strongly that Romney is the party's best and brightest hope, he even took the politically risky step earlier this year of endorsing Romney, a move he admits will likely alienate a portion of his Tea Party supporters, which helped carry him to an historic win in 2010 — a win in which Loftis carried each of the state's 46 counties and received the most votes in state history.
Now Loftis serves as the candidate's state campaign chairman and political surrogate, campaigning on Romney's behalf. That's important, .
State GOP Chairman Chad Connelly has criticized Romney for not spending enough time in South Carolina campaigning, and questioned his commitment to the state.
"I have felt like he just assumed he can't win here," Connelly told National Journal in an online story Tuesday. "I think he's going to do much better than he thinks, but if he doesn't get here he's missing a golden opportunity."
Loftis countered that Romney isn't ignoring the state; he's thinking strategically.
"I think the campaign made some strategic decisions early on that they were going to spend more time in other states," Loftis said. "It's very important they win New Hampshire.
"What Romney's done is set in place a mechanism where he can win the general election. Newt has only worked through the first three or four primaries, and that's going to put him at a real disadvantage. If he were to be our nominee, he's then got to look at a whole nation that he has not looked at. And, he has to raise enough money to compete with the guy who has a billion dollars and Air Force One. Romney has been to all these other states, and has been raising additional money, and making contacts in all these other places."
While with several paid staffers and dozens of grassroots organizers, Loftis doesn't put much stock in it, with nationally televised debates seemingly every week and the explosion of digital media.
"We do have a smaller footprint in South Carolina," Loftis said. "We have two paid staffers in the state. But large staffs and endorsements are holdovers from an earlier era, and neither are really all that important anymore."
Some speculated that Loftis' endorsement was a quid pro quo payback for Romney' endorsement of Loftis when he was running to unseat former treasurer Converse Chellis.
Hardly, said Loftis. He quickly points out that he had also been endorsed by numerous prominent national conservatives as well, including current GOP presidential candidates Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum.
As for a potential backlash from his hard-core conservative supporters for backing Romney, "I'm sure there will be some," Loftis said. "But I didn't get into politics to stay in politics forever. I got into politics to change the way South Carolina handles its money, and how the public views its money. If something happens to me in my political career, I'm all right. I had a good life before. The day a politician has to be reelected is the day he quits being effective."
What's really important to Loftis, he said, is sending Obama back to Chicago.
"Any Republican that thinks we're going to walk away with the election, any Republican that thinks that any of the [candidates] can win — they're just wrong," warned Loftis. "This is going to be a very difficult election. If everything goes perfectly, we'll win [the general election] by a point or two …
"South Carolina is not the most important state in the general election. It's really not important at all. What's important is the swing states. We have to pick someone here in the South Carolina primary that can win in Pennsylvania and Ohio and Colorado and Florida. If we don't win those states, what difference does it make?"
While the state may not be a factor in the general election, it is vital that Romney at least do well here, if not win, Loftis said. Presently, Romney trails Newt Gingrich in the latest Marist/NBC News poll.
"Pundits say that Romney doesn't have to win SC, he just has to do well here," Loftis said. "There is some thought that Newt has peaked too early. It's a long way still. In politics, even 24 hours is a long time."
Loftis said that those who might be ready to write off Romney in the state would do well to look at his own campaign for treasurer last year.
"Nobody in South Carolina had ever beaten a Republican incumbent in a primary," he said. "It's a GOP jobs-for-life program here. They told me I couldn't do it. Yet, I won every single county. People say you have to do this, that, and the other. But Romney's looking at it differently. I think he looks at the electorate and gives them far more respect than the average candidate. He doesn't talk down to them. He doesn't talk in bumper stickers.
"Being a constitutional officer I've realized that philosophy matters less than hard work, showing up at your desk and working. We have enough people in Washington, D.C., spewing red meat; we have enough people spewing ideas everyday. We don't need that. ; Mitt Romney is going to bring to Washington 365 days of hard work."
Loftis says it is still way too early to write off Romney in the state.
"We watched Palin, Trump, Bachmann, Perry, then Cain, now Newt. Who knows what's going to happen? It's a volatile race," he said. "We've watched them all come in, and they really surge, and they're playing for that news cycle every day — but the governor has been marching steadily towards election day.
"Some people see that as a problem. I see this volatility as natural and I think, at the end of the day, the governor will still be standing strong."
Loftis added: "I've always thought Romney could do better here than the national political pundits said. South Carolinians really are pragmatic people. They want to get rid of Obama. Really, do you want to beat him, or do you want to vote your conscience and be second place?"
Loftis said he hasn't really known Romney all that long. But as he has spent time with him, he has seen traits other than electability that make him believe he has picked the right candidate.
"I have little games I play with him. Every time I see him, I give him a little problem off my desk, and he'll think about it — and then he fixes it for me," he said. "He has an analytical mind. He sees a problem, and he fixes the problem. That's what I mean that we don't need so many great ideas, like Newt. We need a problem-solver. If America ever needed a turn-around specialist, now is the time.
"We have enough political geniuses in Washington," he added. "We need somebody who can make it work."
William F. Buckley, the father of modern conservatism, used to say you pick the most conservative Republican that can be elected — "and that's what I did," Loftis said. "Now that I know him … I know he's an honorable man. And he's a smart man."
"I feel really confident saying the race will be really close, and I hope Romney wins," Loftis said. "Barack Obama is not president because the media loved him. He's not president because he's the first African-American. He's not president because he's the greatest orator. He's president because seven million Republicans stayed home," Loftis added.
"What we have to do is make sure we elect a candidate that can draw independent votes, and bring out all the Republicans. So we've got to be civil, we've got to be respectful, but we've also got to put somebody up who can win those swing states. Otherwise, we are just wasting our time.
"I came out early and strong for Romney … And I'm going to be as much for Romney as I can possibly be."