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Romney Seeks Gingrich's Tea Party Lead In S.C.

Dec 18, 2011
Originally published on December 29, 2011 11:02 am

It was warm and beautiful in the seaside resort of Myrtle Beach, S.C., Saturday, where Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney held his final town hall meeting of the weekend. As he stood surrounded by supporters wearing campaign t-shirts, Romney's mood seemed as sunny as the 65-degree weather outside.

Romney had a lot to be happy about. South Carolina's Tea Party-backed Gov. Nikki Haley had not only endorsed him, she regaled him with glowing tributes at every campaign stop in the multi-city tour.

Lining Up With The Tea Party

At the moment, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has a huge lead over Romney among Tea Party supporters. The former Massachusetts governor is fighting to show South Carolinians he is the more conservative of the two.

"I actually think that on the issues of the day and the experience that I would bring to the White House, that I line up pretty darn well with Tea Partiers," he said earlier Saturday.

Haley then joined in.

"[T]he Tea Party is a very educated group, and they're educated because they know what they like, and they know what they don't, and the biggest thing they want is Washington out of the way," she said.

When Romney was asked whether Gingrich had worked as a lobbyist for the mortgage giant Freddie Mac, he had a quick comeback.

"I'm going to let the lawyers decide what is and is not lobbying. But you know, when it walks like a duck and it quacks like a duck, typically it's a duck," he said.

Gingrich denies he was a lobbyist for Freddie Mac and says he was paid more than $1.6 million for strategic advice.

In Comparison

Another South Carolina politician hosted Romney at a campaign event Saturday. Republican Rep. Tim Scott welcomed voters to a town hall for Romney in Charleston.

Scott has already held similar events for other candidates, including Gingrich. Scott says while both Romney and Gingrich did well, he hasn't decided who will get his endorsement.

"Honestly, they have two different styles. Their styles are both bringing something to the table," he says. "I heard some folks talk about a Romney-Gingrich ticket, others talk about a Gingrich-Romney ticket. We'll see what happens."

Some voters said they haven't made up their minds either. Beth and Kevin Alford aren't sure whether Romney is conservative enough for them. They're also uncomfortable with Gingrich's personality. The Alfords say they're completely undecided. Beth Alford says she supported Herman Cain before.

"I think at this point what we've kind of decided is that most all of the candidates have baggage of one sort or another," Kevin Alford says.

One South Carolina voter says he's decided to make what he thinks is the safe choice. Bill Cline, a former management consultant, says Gingrich's multiple marriages and infidelities would make him vulnerable in a contest against President Obama.

"Gingrich has a long history, and it's going to be exploited by the other side," he says, "and I think it will be a detriment to him and will complicate his election possibilities. And I think Romney has a better record."

Cline says many voters like him are looking for a candidate who can unseat Obama. He thinks Romney has the skills and experience to be the country's next leader.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Audie Cornish.

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is gaining momentum, at least when it comes to endorsements. Iowa's largest newspaper, the Des Moines Register, has endorsed the former Massachusetts governor just weeks before the Iowa caucuses kick off the fight for the nomination. That's on top of the endorsement from rising GOP star Nikki Haley, the governor of South Carolina, which bumped its primary up to mid-January after Iowa and New Hampshire.

It's a much-needed boost as recent polling showed Romney trailing a resurgent Newt Gingrich, especially in South Carolina polls. Now, Romney is on tour in the state, fighting to show South Carolinians he is the more conservative of the two.

North Carolina Public Radio's Jessica Jones reports.

JESSICA JONES, BYLINE: It was warm and beautiful in the seaside resort of Myrtle Beach yesterday, where Romney held his final town hall meeting of the weekend.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

JONES: As he stood surrounded by supporters wearing campaign T-shirts, Romney's mood seemed as sunny as the 65-degree weather outside.

MITT ROMNEY: You really are lucky. You live in a wonderful place. This is just a remarkable place. It's a great state...

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

ROMNEY: ...and Myrtle Beach is beautiful. You got a lot of things going for you. The weather - is it always like this in the middle of December?

AUDIENCE MEMBERS: Yes.

ROMNEY: Oh, yeah. Yeah. Yeah, I know better. Yeah.

JONES: Romney had a lot to be happy about. South Carolina's Tea Party-backed Governor Nikki Haley had not only endorsed him, she regaled him with glowing tributes at every campaign stop. At the moment, Newt Gingrich has a huge lead over Romney among Tea Party supporters. Romney and Haley told reporters earlier in the day, that can change.

ROMNEY: I actually think the issues of the day, and the experience that I would bring to the White House, that I line up pretty darn well with Tea Partiers. Governor, you - and I'm going to let...

GOVERNOR NIKKI HALEY: And I'll tell you, one is the Tea Party is a very educated group. And they're educated because they know what they like and they know what they don't. And the biggest thing they want is Washington out of the way.

JONES: When Romney was asked whether Gingrich had worked as a lobbyist for the mortgage giant Freddie Mac, he had a quick comeback.

ROMNEY: I'm going to let the lawyers decide what is and is not lobbying. But, you know, when it walks like a duck and it quacks like a duck, typically it's a duck.

JONES: Gingrich denies he was a lobbyist for Freddie Mac and says he was paid more than $1.6 million for strategic advice.

(SOUNDBITE OF CONVERSATIONS)

JONES: Another South Carolina politician hosted Romney at a campaign event yesterday. Republican Congressman Tim Scott welcomed voters to a town hall for Romney in Charleston yesterday morning.

REPRESENTATIVE TIM SCOTT: Now this is a wonderful looking crowd. I tell you what, the beautiful people over here - awesome. More beautiful people over here - fantastic-looking people over here!

JONES: Scott has already held similar events for other candidates, including Gingrich. Scott says while both Romney and Gingrich did well, he hasn't decided who will get his endorsement.

SCOTT: Honestly, they have two different styles. Their styles both bring something to the table. I've heard some folks talk about a Romney/Gingrich ticket. And others talk about a Gingrich/Romney ticket. We'll see what happens.

JONES: Some voters said they haven't made up their minds either. Beth and Kevin Alford aren't sure whether Romney is conservative enough for them. And they're uncomfortable with Gingrich's personality. The Alfords say they're completely undecided.

KEVIN ALFORD: Pretty much, right now. That's where we are.

BETH ALFORD: I liked Herman Cain before, so...

K. ALFORD: I think at this point, what we've kind of decided is that most all of the candidates have baggage of some sort or others.

JONES: But one South Carolina voter says he's decided to make what he thinks is the safe choice. Bill Cline is a former management consultant. He says Gingrich's multiple marriages and infidelities would make him vulnerable in a contest against President Obama.

BILL CLINE: Gingrich has - he has a long history and it's going to be exploited by the other side. And I think it will be a detriment to him and will complicate his election possibilities. And I think Romney has a better record.

JONES: Cline says many voters like him are looking for a candidate who can unseat President Obama. And he thinks Romney has the skills and experience to be the country's next leader.

For NPR News, I'm Jessica Jones in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.