The large lot at Bobby’s Bar-B-Q Buffet and Horse Creek Banquet Hall is full, so people have been forced to park on the side of Jefferson Davis Highway. There’s a long row of “Newt 2012” road signs. The spectators are pouring out of the front and back doors of the spacious hall, craning their necks to catch a glimpse of Gingrich.
Inside, hundreds hang on to every word of Gingrich’s stump speech, laughing and clapping and nodding. Every so often, someone spontaneously shouts out, “Newt!”
Gingrich trots out some of his more reliable one-liners, including a couple about his desire to have “Lincoln-Douglas style” debates with Barack Obama in the fall. “I will concede up front that he can use a teleprompter,” Gingrich jokes. “If you had to defend Obamacare, wouldn’t you want a teleprompter?”
Gingrich also has some new material. He tells a story about the six-year-old son of one of his staff members who worked small jobs around the house in order to earn some money for a toy. “He helped in the yard, he helped with the car, and earned exactly the right amount,” Gingrich says. “And guess what he encountered?”
“Taxes!” the crowd answers knowingly.
“This is making a conservative at six years of age,” Gingrich quips. This crowd loves it, along with just about anything Gingrich has to say.
If Mitt Romney has already sewn up the Republican nomination, someone forgot to tell these people.
One supporter from Georgia (there are several here from Gingrich’s home state) tells Gingrich that he helped campaign for the former congressman during one of his tough House races. “We got you over a hump in 1982,” the man says. “I just want to let you know that I’m here to get you over a hump.”
That hump seems to be Romney, who came to South Carolina with victories in Iowa and New Hampshire under his belt, and a growing lead in national polls to boot. Now, the latest Rasmussen national poll shows an 11-point positive swing for Gingrich among likely GOP primary voters, bringing him within 3 points of Romney.
“That sucking sound you hear is the air Newt is taking out of the gap between himself and Romney,” says Gingrich spokesman R.C. Hammond.
Gingrich has been saying all week that he thinks he’ll win South Carolina’s primary on January 21. But for the first time since his last big swing through the Palmetto State in late November, he actually sounds confident about his chances. There’s good reason for that. A new poll of primary voters from CNN shows Gingrich is gaining on his rival, earning 23 percent support compared to Romney’s 33 percent support. Romney's lead over Gingrich has shrunk nine points from where he was in the same CNN poll two weeks ago.
The Romney campaign has been quick to respond to the threat, indicating they believe Gingrich’s momentum in South Carolina is real. A Romney web ad and corresponding website released today features former congresswoman Susan Molinari, a three-term moderate Republican from New York, calling the former speaker an “undisciplined leader.” Hammond dismisses the spot as petty “axe grinding,” and the Gingrich campaign emailed reporters a list of 22 current and former members of Congress who support Gingrich.
But Gingrich isn’t taking any chances now that he’s back in Romney’s crosshairs. “I fully expect the Romney campaign to be unendingly dirty and dishonest for the next four days because they’re desperate,” he says. “They thought they could buy this. They’re discovering they can’t buy this. I think they have internal polls that show them losing. And I think they will do anything at any level. And I need your help. People power will beat money power, and I need your help to beat Romney.”