Republican presidential candidates Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum are taking vastly different approaches to Saturday’s South Carolina primary.
Former House Speaker Gingrich is treating the vote as do-or-die to establish himself as a real threat to front-runner Mitt Romney, Politico
reports. Santorum, meanwhile is treating the Palmetto State as just one of many on the road to the Republican convention in Tampa.
To some extent, the divergent approaches are a reflection of personalities. Gingrich likes drama, while Santorum generally doesn’t. In addition, Gingrich has fared better than Santorum in recent South Carolina polls, so it makes no sense for the Pennsylvanian to play up his chances.
The four latest major polls show Gingrich in second place behind Romney, far ahead of Santorum, who sits in fourth after Ron Paul. And those polls don’t yet reflect Gingrich’s sterling performance in the debate Monday night.
Gingrich knows that South Carolina represents his best chance for an early primary victory. The next primary is Florida, a tough state for him given its size, its expensive advertising market, and his skeletal organization there.
Santorum, meanwhile, has been forced to adjust his expectations. After finishing a close second to Romney in Iowa, he said South Carolina was his best chance for a victory out of the first three contests. Now he realizes that’s extremely unlikely. He promises to continue his campaign at least to Florida.
Gingrich basically says that if he doesn’t win in South Carolina, Romney will take the nomination. “If I win the primary Saturday, I will be the nominee,” he told supporters Tuesday. “If I don’t win the primary on Saturday, we will probably nominate a moderate and he will lose to Obama.”
But Santorum disagrees. “This race will narrow down after South Carolina,” he said at a campaign event.
“It will narrow down further as the primaries go on, and eventually there will be one candidate up against Mitt Romney. When that happens there will be very different election outcomes going forward. I intend to be that candidate that continues on.”
Gingrich appears to have the advantage over Santorum, despite the weekend endorsement of evangelical leaders for the former senator. Gingrich’s debate performance Monday made a huge difference.
“I think it’s likely that Newt does get second just because of the debate,” South Carolina GOP operative Wes Donehue, who isn’t endorsing anyone after working for Michele Bachmann, told Politico. “If he performs [in Thursday’s debate] like he did Monday, he’ll have the momentum going into Saturday.”
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