A philosophical clash threatening to divide Republicans this fall came into full view Tuesday in York County, as two presidential candidates offered different visions for where the party's focus ought to be.
Mike Huckabee cast himself as a friend to the middle class, saying opponents who think the economy is doing well are fooling themselves.
A few hours earlier, rival Fred Thompson asked whether Republicans would stay committed to their bedrock principles of lower taxes and less government, hinting that a Huckabee administration would break toward a different path.
The two men never spoke each other's names, but they're both competing fiercely for the support of social conservatives in South Carolina, where the GOP primary is Saturday.
"There's an argument going on in the Republican Party right now," Thompson said to about 300 listeners crowded into a Golden Corral restaurant on Anderson Road. "We're down a little bit to the Democrats, so do we need to be more like the Democrats? I don't think so. Call it populist, whatever you want to call it. It always winds up more government."
Huckabee, speaking to about 400 people at the Magnolia Room at Laurel Creek, sought to portray his rivals as out of touch with the needs of average Americans. He recalled a recent debate question on the country's economic health.
"They all answered the same way, until they got to me," said Huckabee, former Arkansas governor. "I said, 'Well, I guess the economy's doing great if you're in the front office.' But if you're the person who's serving the food or handling the bags, ask how the economy's doing and you'll say it's not doing that well."
Polls show Huckabee and Thompson, a former U.S. senator from Tennessee, locked in a tight battle for second place in South Carolina behind U.S. Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who visits Lake Wylie's T-Bones on the Lake restaurant today at 5:45 p.m.
A stroll through York
Hoping to remind voters of his small-town roots, Thompson took a stroll through downtown York later Tuesday.
Merchants presented him with gifts as he walked down Congress Street. Children asked for his autograph, and Mayor Eddie Lee proclaimed the day as "Senator Fred Thompson Day" in York.
After hearing Lee read the proclamation listing reasons why he deserved it, the senator offered a unique thanks.
"I'm Fred Thompson, and I endorse this message," he joked. "Last time I said that it cost me a lot more money."
Ronnie Bailes, owner of The Men's Shop, was looking for more than a handshake when Thompson came through.
"I've got your size back here on a rack," Bailes said. "I'd love to sell you a suit."
"I need one, but I don't have time," Thompson replied.
After their overlapping visits to York County, both candidates struck out for different parts of the state, with Huckabee headed for an event in Sumter and Thompson bound for activities in Columbia.