[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i.l.cnn.net/cnn/2008/images/01/16/art.romneygop.ap.jpg caption="The Romney campaign is downplaying expectations for Saturday's vote in South Carolina."]
COLUMBIA, South Carolina (CNN) – South Carolina GOP chairman Katon Dawson said Thursday that Mitt Romney's decision to downplay expectations in the state and look ahead to other primaries may be a mistake.
"If you can't win that Southern firewall, and any states bleed off of you in the general election, then you're going to have a Democrat president," Dawson said in a phone interview.
"The base of the Republican party is the Southern firewall," he continued. "Every president who has won the nomination has won a solid bloc of the South."
Romney is leaving South Carolina for Nevada tonight, and will spend Saturday evening in Florida as polls close here.
Dawson said that's a curious shift, considering how long and hard Romney's team has worked to win over South Carolina voters.
"I think certain campaigns are setting expectation levels that are different than what they were doing a month ago," Dawson said.
Over the last year, the Romney campaign has spent vast sums on their organization and media strategy in the state, only to pull their TV ads last week following Romney's disappointing second-place finishes in Iowa and New Hampshire.
At one point, before Mike Huckabee's spectacular rise, some polls had Romney in a tie for first place.
Now, said Romney spokesman Will Holley: "According to the polls, we're in a dogfight for third or sitting in fourth, so anything higher than that is icing on the cake."