As South Carolina’s Jan. 21 GOP presidential primary election draws nearer, expect to see more weeks like last week. Two contenders for the Republican nomination, Newt Gingrich and Michele Bachmann, campaigned hard across the state. So far, Gingrich is coming out on top.
Gingrich spoke to a packed house at Charleston’s Sottile Theatre last Monday in a presidential forum hosted by U.S. Rep. Tim Scott. On stage, he gave the audience a taste of his rhetoric, calling for the drastic overhaul of governmental agencies, a private-sector model for government spending, and a heaping helping of unabashed American exceptionalism.
He had harsh words for President Barack Obama, but he expressed no animosity toward his opponents for the GOP nomination and said any of the current contenders could end up in administrative positions under his presidency. “We have no opponents except Barack Obama,” he said. Toward the end of the evening, when asked who he would choose as a running mate, he turned to Scott and said, “You’re certainly on the short list.”
The Bachmann campaign, on the other hand, sent out press releases that characterized Gingrich as a “Washington insider” who had pushed to bail out banks and didn’t understand the concerns of the Tea Party. Bachmann announced speaking dates around the state and spoke on radio talk shows on Friday in Columbia, Myrtle Beach, Rock Hill, and Greenwood. She also attacked his assertion, in an interview about abortion, that life begins at implantation and not at conception:
Newt Gingrich stated today that life begins at implantation not at conception. But those who are truly involved in the life issue know that life begins at conception. Additionally, the former Speaker's description of the life issue as 'practical' is a rejection of the most sacred principle that each and every life has value, a principle recognized by our founders in the Declaration of Independence of the most basic right with which every human is endowed. This along with his inconsistent record on life is just one more indication that Newt is not dedicated to protecting the lives of the unborn and doesn’t share the most basic of conservative principles.
She also announced that she had gotten the support of some Tea Party heavy hitters in South Carolina, and she published a list of new campaign co-chairs from around the state. Of the 37 co-chairs, exactly one was from the Lowcountry: Lauren Martel, an attorney on Hilton Head Island. In fact, none of them came from Charleston, North Charleston, or Mt. Pleasant, the second- through fourth-most populous cities in the state. Most were from the Midlands and Upstate, with a strong contingency in Spartanburg.
A poll published by the Augusta Chronicle last Tuesday showed Gingrich leading the pack handily, with 38 percent of South Carolina voters saying they’d vote for him. Gingrich took the lead from Herman Cain, who dropped to third place with 13 percent, while Mitt Romney took second place with 15 percent. Ron Paul came in fourth with 7 percent, followed by Rick Perry with 4 percent, Bachmann with 3 percent, and Rick Santorum with 2 percent. Thirteen percent expressed no opinion.