“There was somebody…that put together a program that helped us take back the House of Representatives. Do you guys remember who that was?” Republican state representative Kris Crawford asks the small crowd here at the Art Trail Gallery minutes before Newt Gingrich is set to speak.
“Newt!” a few voices answer, not quite in sync.
“And we elected somebody speaker of the House. Who was that?”
“Newt!” the voices reply, a little louder this time.
The questions keep coming. “And who was in charge of the body that writes the budget the last time we had a balanced budget in this country?” “Newt!” “Who reformed welfare?” “Newt!” “Who brought the Clinton administration to heel?” “Newt!” “Who do we need in Washington?” “Newt!” “Who do we need making our case on that stage in a debate against President Obama in October and November?” “Newt!” “Who did you see last night was the only guy on the stage that was going to be able to go toe to toe with Chicago politics?” “Newt!” “And who’s the Pee Dee and South Carolina going to vote for come Saturday?” “Newt!”
Gingrich and his surrogates are attempting to fill a tall order: Remind South Carolina’s conservative Republicans that Gingrich is their standard bearer, and that he is capable of beating Mitt Romney in the GOP primary and Barack Obama in the general election. Oh, and they have fewer than 5 days until the January 21 primary here to do it. “If I win on Saturday, I think I will be the nominee,” Gingrich confidently tells the crowd.
Gingrich’s stellar debate performance Monday night in Myrtle Beach seems to have reinvigorated him. He reviews for the crowd his response in the debate to Juan Williams’s question on race and poverty, when Gingrich said that “every American of every background has been endowed by their creator with the right to pursue happiness. And if that makes liberals unhappy, I’m going to continue to find ways to help poor.”
“All of the sudden, the audience, spontaneously, started standing and applauding,” Gingrich reminds today’s crowd. “The reason I think they were doing it is we have been fed so much baloney by our liberal elites and we are so sick of people who don’t get it that I think people are just grateful to have somebody who has the courage to tell the truth.”
One voter asks Gingrich if he’ll be willing to “bloody [Obama’s] nose” in the general election debates. “I don’t want to bloody his nose,” Gingrich says. “I want to knock him out.”
This is vintage Gingrich: the right-wing warrior who excites conservatives. In the closing days of the race in South Carolina, he’s hoping voters think of this Gingrich, and not the more recent Gingrich who attacked Romney on Bain Capital, when they enter the voting booth Saturday.
Gingrich is also arguing that he’s the only viable conservative left in the race. He continues to maintain that a vote for anyone else, like Rick Santorum, is wasted and allows Romney to clinch the nomination. But what about Santorum, who beat Gingrich in the Iowa caucuses and essentially tied him in New Hampshire? The former Pennsylvania senator has better favorable ratings than Gingrich among the general voting population, too. In a brief press conference following his town hall meeting in Florence, he disputes that Santorum is more electable.
“He [Santorum] lost his state, for reelection, by the largest margin in the history of Pennsylvania,” Gingrich says. “There’s no evidence that he could put together a national majority.” The campaign, too, says Gingrich has the organization in Florida and beyond to compete with Romney. Santorum, they say, can't compete.
So are the voters of South Carolina responding positively to Gingrich? It's difficult to say, though one voter seems convinced, raising his hand to ask Gingrich a simple question: "Who do I give my check to?"