Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich resurrected his campaign from near death through his sterling performances in early debates. And now he has rocketed to the lead in some South Carolina primary polls based on his latest debate performances, Politico
reports. Just as importantly, front-runner Mitt Romney has hurt his chances with average performances in the debates.
This two-pronged dynamic was in vivid display Thursday night. The first question Gingrich faced from CNN moderator John King concerned allegations from the former House Speaker’s second wife that he had asked for an open marriage. Gingrich blasted both King and the mainstream media in general for focusing on tawdry affairs. The beat-down earned Gingrich a standing ovation from the debate audience.
Blasting the establishment press is a time-tested method to fire up conservatives, who decry the mainstream media for liberal bias. “Watch it help Newt,” former South Carolina GOP chairman Katon Dawson told Politico.
Gingrich also was able to upstage Romney on an issue that has caused the former Massachusetts quite a bit of trouble in recent days. While Romney has grudgingly released only part of his tax information, promising more later, Gingrich released his entire return during the debate.
Even when Rick Santorum ripped Gingrich for his “grandiosity,” the former House Speaker was able to offer a deft response. “This is a grandiose country of big people doing big things,” Gingrich said.
Romney, meanwhile, was unable to provide smooth answers to questions for which he should have been completely prepared. The queries concerned issues ranging from taxes, to abortion, to healthcare. Those are subjects that have vexed him throughout the campaign.
“And it was never more evident than Thursday night that Romney hasn’t put them to rest, or even figured out how to speak about them comfortably,” Politico states.
Conservatives are attracted to Gingrich for more than his criticism of the media. He’s tapping into the anger that many of them feel about the nation’s state of affairs.
“He does capture where the party is rhetorically,” Republican strategist Jon Lerner, who hasn’t endorsed a candidate, told Politico. “But I don’t know if Saturday’s vote is tantamount to long-term success.”
As for Romney, his by-the-book strategy may help him in the general election. But it’s not doing him much good in South Carolina.
His verbal awkwardness continued in Thursday’s debate. He was unable to provide a clear answer as to when he’ll release all his tax information. Asked if he would match his late father in offering 12 years of returns, Romney said, “maybe.”
And once more he tried to establish a connection with average Americans that rang a bit false. Seeking to contrast his largely private-sector career to Gingrich’s largely government career, Romney said he has “lived in the real streets of America.” This from someone who is worth an estimated $200 million.
When asked for his biggest regret during the campaign so far, Romney said he would have liked to criticize his opponents less. That doesn’t quite square with his campaign’s series of negative ads against Gingrich in recent weeks.
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