BLUFFTON, S.C. -- Former House speaker Newt Gingrich cut the ribbon on one of five new field offices in South Carolina Tuesday, a symbolic gesture of his intensifying bid to win this crucial early state
On day two of a three-day swing through the Palmetto state, where he is investing heavily and hoping to win, Gingrich continued to attract big crowds to his surging campaign -- as well as a growing gaggle of TV crews and reporters who now follow him everywhere after largely ignoring him following his campaign’s implosion at the start of the summer. Gingrich now has five offices and 10 employees in South Carolina, where the Republican primary -- scheduled for Jan. 21 next year -- has correctly predicted the eventual Republican nominee for 30 years.
Gingrich briefly diverged from his well-rehearsed stump speech to answer questions about Herman Cain, his embattled rival who faces a fresh accusation this week that he had an affair spanning 13 years with a woman from Atlanta. Gingrich called Cain a friend and said: “This must be a painful period for him and his family. He has to make the decision that he thinks is appropriate. I respect that he has to do that.”
But Cain’s troubles could add to the opportunity that Gingrich is trying to seize this month. Gingrich began rising in the polls a few weeks ago, benefiting in part from the quick rise and fall of the frontrunners who preceded him and in part from his own steady performance in a long series of presidential debates this year. He is particularly focused on winning South Carolina; he is fond of saying that he is strong here; his leading rival for the nomination, former Massachusetts governor, is strong in New Hampshire; and Iowa is “jump ball.”
On the town green of an outdoor shopping mall a few miles inland from Hilton Head, Gingrich emphasized the tone and topics that have persuaded voters to give him a second look: long, pithy explanations of how to build a fence along the southern border, how to rebuild the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Education, what’s wrong with President Obama’s health-care overhaul.
Wearing a pin representing the revolutionary battle flag of General George Washington -- and explaining, again, what it is -- Gingrich briefly toured his new campaign office and said hello to his supporters. One of them, James Epley, serving as volunteer chairman of Gingrich’s campaign in Beauford County, said Gingrich’s appeal is growing because more and more voters are giving him a second look and realizing how smart and right for the times his proposals are.
“I’ve been with him here all over the state,” Epley said. “Everywhere we go, even with people leaning to another candidate, he wins them over.”