LEXINGTON, South Carolina (CNN) - Eight Confederate flag-waving men protested outside a Fred Thompson campaign stop Wednesday evening, one week after Thompson and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney criticized the flag during the CNN/YouTube debate in Florida.
Clad in jackets bearing the Confederate flag and holding signs reading "South Carolina hates Fred Thompson" and "Fred Thompson go home," the protesters said Thompson was not a "true southerner."
Jim Hanks, chairman of the South Carolina League of the South, said that Thompson's answer at the debate was worse than Romney's because Thompson is from a southern state.
"He's masquerading as a good ole boy," Hanks said.
Asked about the flag during last week's debate, Thompson said that, "as far as a public place is concerned, I am glad that people have made the decision not to display it as a prominent flag, symbolic of something, at a state capital."
But the former Senator from Tennessee qualified his statement: "As a part of a group of flags or something of that nature, you know, honoring various service people at different times in different parts of the country, I think that's different."
The Confederate flag on display at the South Carolina Statehouse waves next to the Confederate soldier monument there.
"The flag stands right next to the Confederate Memorial on the capitol grounds, honoring, as Fred says, the 'various service people at different times and different parts of the country,'" said Thompson spokesman Todd Harris after the debate.
Romney was more blunt.
"That flag, frankly, is divisive, and it shouldn't be shown," he said.
Don Gordon from Columbia, a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, was one of the protesters on Wednesday.
"Both Fred Thompson and Mitt Romney made derogatory comments about the Confederate flag, and we don't think people should come to the South and try to get our votes and then wipe their feet on the Confederate flag to kiss up to voters in other parts of the country," he said.
In the course of about ten minutes after Thompson's event ended, nearly a dozen passing cars honked and waved in support of the small demonstration.
One man was carrying a sign calling Thompson a "carpetbagger," but when he realized Thompson is from Tennessee, he put it away.
The Thompson campaign views South Carolina as a must win for the former Tennessee senator. While down in the polls in Iowa and New Hampshire, he remains a frontrunner in this early-voting southern state that serves as a crucial test of a candidate's conservative mettle.
An AP/Pew poll of likely Republican voters released this week shows a three-way dead heat for first place in South Carolina, with Thompson coming in at 18 percent, just one point behind former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, who are tied at 19 percent.
Jeff Sadosky, a spokesman for the Thompson campaign, told reporters in an email that “South Carolina voters know where Senator Thompson stands on the issue, and that's what's important.”
- CNN South Carolina Producer Peter Hamby