Former Republican presidential front-runner Mitt Romney has slipped to second place in the GOP presidential primary, according to the most recent Gallup poll.
Romney has a slight lead over Texas Governor Rick Perry with East Coast voters (17 to 16 percent), which may explain why he has sent South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint a rather subtle message that the southern GOP vote isn’t high on his campaign's radar. Romney announced on Wednesday that he will not attend a Labor Day rally in South Carolina, instead choosing to spend the day campaigning in New Hampshire, where he is placing all his efforts in order to hopefully stay atop a crowded GOP field.
Romney also has a minor lead over Perry among liberal/moderate voters where he outpaces the Texas governor 21 percent to 17 percent. But Perry leads Romney by a 34 to 16 margin among those who attend church weekly.
Sen. DeMint, who is known as a fiscal hawk and one of the authors of “cut, cap and balance,” helped organize the Palmetto Freedom Forum in Columbia, S.C.
“Hopefully, this event will be an important part of the process to choose the next president of the United States,” DeMint said in a statement.
The forum is seen as a gateway into the south for many of the GOP contenders, but not everyone found an invitation in their mailbox.
So far, those who have received invitations and RSVPed are Texas Governor Rick Perry, Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-Minn.), Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), Atlanta businessman Herman Cain and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
Paul is riding high on his second place finish in the Iowa Caucus and has now gained a slight lead over his House colleague, Bachmann, even leading her by a one-percent margin among women voters. Bachmann was the winner of the Iowa Caucus held earlier this month in Ames.
Those not issued an invitation because of their low poll numbers include former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman and former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum.
Organizers said that to be invited, candidates must surpass a 5 percent threshold in the RealClearPolitics average of several national polls. Both Santorum and Huntsman fall below the 5 percent barrier.
Ryan Williams, a Romney spokesperson, said scheduling conflicts were the culprit in Romney’s decision to skip the forum. Romney invested heavily in South Carolina during his 2008 presidential campaign, which may explain his reasoning for focusing on areas where he is strongest. Romney’s 17 to 16 over Perry among East Coast voters will need to increase if he is to catch up with Perry’s 39 to 12 margin among southern voters.
Former DeMint state director Luke Byars told The Associated Press that organizers had been talking and trying to schedule Romney for weeks.
“So it’s not a surprise, but obviously it’s disappointing,” Byars remarked. “We feel pretty good that out of the top six campaigns, we’ve got five confirmed. That’s a testament to the strength of South Carolina and the popularity of Sen. Jim DeMint.”
Organizers invited former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. Giuliani declined due to a family conflict and Palin had not responded prior to the 5 p.m. Wednesday deadline.
It is also interesting to note that of the five candidates who have confirmed, four are from the south and the other is popular among Tea Party activists, many of who live below the Mason-Dixon line.
Panelists for the event are Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), Princeton University professor Robert George, and DeMint.