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Americas

Republicans face off in South Carolina primary

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Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2012-01-21

Republicans Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich are the front-runners in Saturday's South Carolina primary, the result of which could decide the party's candidate in the 2012 presidential election. Rick Santorum and Ron Paul also remain in the race.

REUTERS - U.S. presidential rivals Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich battled to win last-minute supporters on Saturday in a South Carolina primary that could reshape the Republican nominating contest.

Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, must win the conservative southern state to secure his front-runner status in the race to determine who will challenge Democratic President Barack Obama in November.

Gingrich’s recent rise in popularity has slowed Romney’s momentum.

A victory by the former speaker of the House of Representatives could prolong the state-by-state Republican nominating battle and give Obama’s re-election campaign a boost as his would-be Republican opponents beat each other up.

“I’m the only guy’s who’s spent his life in the real world,” said Romney, standing on a chair in a crowded restaurant, Tommy’s Country Ham House. He referred to Gingrich as a “Washington insider” and acknowledged he might not lock up the nomination this weekend.

“We’ve got a long way to go. So come join us in Florida, in Nevada, Michigan, Colorado. We’ve got a long way to go.”

Romney may be helped if the South Carolina conservative vote is splintered among Gingrich, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum and libertarian Congressman Ron Paul.

Voter turnout, which weather could influence, will also be key. A tornado watch was in effect for much of the state and severe thunderstorms were on the forecast.

Gingrich was hoping to create a storm of his own. A new poll conducted by the American Research Group showed him leading Romney 40 percent to 26 percent among likely voters. The margin of error in the survey, conducted Thursday and Friday, was 4 percentage points.

Gingrich’s latest surge in opinion polls came after disappointing finishes in the first contests in Iowa and New Hampshire. He has fended off publicity about his turbulent marital history and painted himself as the more conservative candidate whose experience in Washington would help him lead.

US PRESIDENTIAL 2012

That was convincing to some voters in Charleston.

“Yeah, he had his baggage. Who doesn’t?” said Bryan Riddle, 48, who voted for Gingrich. “I don’t think he spins everything that comes out of his mouth.”

Kim Woods, 53, a photographer, said Gingrich’s Washington experience—which Romney has attempted to demonize—was an asset. “He’s been in D.C. He’s been in the political realm. He can get some things done,” she said.

A multimillionaire ex-businessman who runs a sleek campaign, Romney has consistently won the support of a quarter of Republicans nationally with his message on jobs and the economy. But he has failed to capture the hearts of many conservatives.

Gingrich is a former history teacher with strong debating skills and a personal life that is dotted with marital infidelity, in contrast to Romney’s stable family tableau, punctuated by five sons and 16 grandchildren.

Two man race

With two other candidates trailing in the polls, the primary looks like a straight fight between the two very different men.

“Newt has positioned himself as the ‘anti-Romney’ and this strategy has played well in South Carolina,” said Republican strategist Ron Christie.

“The question is whether this has broader appeal in more diverse states. As for Romney, this sparring will serve him well for the general election should he become the Republican nominee.”

Fueled by a grudge that has become almost personal, Gingrich has sown seeds of doubt among Republicans who were beginning to see Romney as the inevitable nominee after strong showings in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Romney has stumbled, acknowledging in the last week he pays a much lower tax rate than many Americans and struggling to answer questions about a planned release of tax records.

Romney’s campaign tried to turn the tables and ask for more information about ethics violations for which Gingrich was sanctioned in Congress in the 1990s.

The campaign noted that Saturday was the 15th anniversary of Gingrich being reprimanded by fellow lawmakers.

“Don’t you love these guys? He doesn’t release anything, he doesn’t answer anything. And he’s even confused about whether or not he will ever release anything. And then he’s decided to pick a fight over releasing stuff,” Gingrich said.

Animosity between the two has been festering since December, when a group supporting Romney launched a blitz of negative TV ads in Iowa that effectively ruined Gingrich’s campaign there.

He has hit back by attacking Romney’s business record.

The fight has been bruising in South Carolina, a conservative state with a history of dirty politics.

Romney’s team is playing up his family background. His wife of 42 years, Ann, appears in an ad extolling the virtues needed in a strong president.

“If you really want to know how a person will operate, look at how they have lived their life. And I think that’s why it’s so important to understand the character of a person,” she says.

The winner of South Carolina’s Republican presidential primary has gone on to win the party’s nomination in every election since 1980. Romney’s path to the nomination would be nearly clear if he can clinch the state on Saturday. Polling closes at 7 p.m. eastern/0000 GMT.

The next contest is in Florida, where Romney has agreed to participate in more debates, which have been Gingrich’s most successful venues.

“Regardless of what happens in South Carolina, this is still Mitt Romney’s race to lose, and I don’t think he’s going to lose it,” said Republican strategist Todd Harris, adding that Gingrich had failed repeatedly to capitalize on his strengths.

“Romney’s campaign is like a slow and methodical game of chess. Newt’s is more like Chutes and Ladders.”

Date created : 2012-01-21

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