GOP Race Tightens in South Carolina

Thursday, 12 Jan 2012 12:47 PM

By Paul Scicchitano

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With 10 days before South Carolina voters go to the polls, the GOP race appears to be tightening in the Palmetto State and well-known pollster Matt Towery tells Newsmax “this is really Gingrich’s race to lose.”

Flush with cash and plans by Gingrich supporters to spend more than an estimated $3 million to woo South Carolina, the former House Speaker has pulled into a statistical tie with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in the latest InsiderAdvantage poll released Wednesday.

“This is really Gingrich’s race to lose, but his big mouth may cause him to lose,” said Towery, the InsiderAdvantage chief, in an exclusive interview today. “If he controls himself for 10 days, keeps himself from saying something incredibly bizarre, he’ll win South Carolina. If he doesn’t, he’ll go down.”

The poll of 726 registered voters showed Romney clinging to a 23 to 21 percent lead over Gingrich in South Carolina, followed by former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum with 14 percent and Tex. Rep. Ron Paul with 13 percent. Trailing the pack were former Utah Gov. and ambassador Jon Huntsman with 7 percent and Texas Gov. Rick Perry with 5 percent.

Gingrich has come under criticism in recent days for focusing on Romney’s record with Bain Capital, which some have viewed to be unfair criticism of capitalism and America’s free enterprise system – fundamental tenets of the Republican Party.

But the attacks appear to be resonating well with South Carolina voters, according to the pollster, whose InsiderAdvantage firm has never missed calling a race in South Carolina with its final poll.

“They don’t view this as an attack on capitalism and that’s where the pundits just don’t get it,” said Towery. “You might think that everybody knows about a leveraged buyout and would think that’s great capitalism. They don’t. Welcome to the South.”

While Romney has scored historic back-to-back victories in the first-in-the nation Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary, Gingrich appears to be picking up votes that would have otherwise gone to the other conservatives in the race — Perry and Santorum.

“The people who support those two candidates want somebody who’s a conservative first and meets the evangelical test second,” said Towery, noting that evangelicals are particularly well represented in the northwestern section of South Carolina.

“While Gingrich may have his faults, they are suspicious of Romney and they are willing to settle for Gingrich as the more likely candidate to uphold their positions,” said Towery.

Similarly, Paul, who finished second in New Hampshire, is not expected to be as much of a factor in South Carolina, where his message of a smaller military strikes a sour note.

That said, Towery believes that Romney will lock down the nomination if he can defeat Gingrich in South Carolina.

“If Mitt Romney can win South Carolina, it is over — done,” Towery predicted, noting that Romney will likely start to lose the bump he got from his big victory in New Hampshire over the coming days. 

Voters in New Hampshire exit polls said they were drawn to experience, another area where Gingrich has an edge, according to Towery. 

“Newt has got to shut up and talk about what he achieved as speaker of the House, which was welfare reform, balanced budget, passing the Contract with America in the House,” according to Towery. “Romney was governor of a state for four years. Go down the line. None of these people has the experience [Gingrich] has. But he will not tell people.”

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