Gingrich Seizes Pole Position as Romney Alternative in S.C.

Gingrich Seizes Pole Position as Romney Alternative in S.C.

By Scott Conroy - January 14, 2012

DUNCAN, S.C. -- As soon as Newt Gingrich wrapped up his remarks on Friday night at a forum hosted by the Republican Parties of Greenville and Spartanburg counties, it was Rick Santorum's turn to take the stage.

But Gingrich ensured that the spotlight remained on him.

As the former Pennsylvania senator began his remarks to hundreds of GOP activists gathered inside a high school cafeteria, Gingrich drew most of the media on hand to a nearby hallway where he held a press conference apparently timed to steal Santorum's thunder.

Gingrich took a pass when asked how, over the next week, he would contrast his record with Santorum's.

But even before taking a question, the former House speaker -- who just last month promised to run a “relentlessly positive” campaign -- launched an all-out barrage against Mitt Romney, laying into the former Massachusetts governor’s record on abortion, the Second Amendment, taxes and job creation.

The message Gingrich was trying to convey was clear: that the real battle in South Carolina was between himself and Romney, with the other candidates playing bit roles.

“If we end up splitting the conservative vote, we’re going to end up nominating somebody with whom 95 percent of the people in this room are going to be very uncomfortable,” Gingrich had told the crowd, clearly referencing Romney, whom he has labeled a “Massachusetts moderate.”

Gingrich has some recent numbers to back up his belief that he is the Romney alternative best-positioned to turn back the national front-runner’s momentum in South Carolina. According to the latest RCP Average of Palmetto State polls, Gingrich trails Romney by less than 5 percent, while Santorum and the libertarian-leaning Ron Paul are 12 percentage points behind. Rick Perry and Jon Huntsman continue to spin their wheels in the mid-single digits.

Gingrich offered up a tantalizing prospect to the enthusiastic crowd in this most conservative region of South Carolina: That a come-from-behind victory here would set him on a path to the nomination.

“If we can win on the 21st, we will win in Florida,” he predicted. “And if we win those two back to back, we will guarantee a conservative nominee on a conservative platform to offer a clear and decisive choice, and I believe the only hope that gives us the chance to beat Barack Obama.”

After facing a chorus of criticism from the right over his decision to attack Romney for his work at Bain Capital in the 1980s and ’90s, Gingrich on Friday asked that a group backing his candidacy -- the Winning Our Future super PAC -- correct inaccuracies or pull from circulation its nearly half-hour documentary that depicts Romney as a cold-blooded job destroyer.

The group has thus far declined to alter the video and instead challenged Romney to describe publicly which sections of it are inaccurate.

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Scott Conroy is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @RealClearScott.

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