Is Newt Gingrich surging in South Carolina?
Talk radio seems to think so, judging from the blanket coverage given to Gingrich for much of the day Tuesday by Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and other radio hosts for what they widely deemed to be his stellar performance in Monday’s Republican presidential debate in Myrtle Beach.
Mitt Romney may or may not think so; his campaign announced that it would host a conference call Wednesday on the topic of why Gingrich is “unreliable.” Romney hasn’t organized such a call with Gingrich as the target since the former House speaker led the field in December.
Gingrich and his supporters certainly think so. They’re launching multiple ad campaigns Wednesday to make the most of the momentum they say Gingrich gained from the debate. Gingrich’s campaign will debut a new ad featuring clips from the evening, during which he defended his attacks on Romney’s years at the helm of Bain Capital and brought audience members to their feet with a stinging retort to a question from journalist Juan Williams about whether he is race-baiting when he accuses Obama of being the best “food-stamp president” in the history of the nation.
“Well, first of all, Juan, the fact is that more people have been put on food stamps by Barack Obama than any president in American history,” Gingrich said. “Now, I know among the politically correct, you’re not supposed to use facts that are uncomfortable.”
A super PAC supporting Gingrich will also launch an ad, this one a quirky yet brutal animated piece that imagines what a debate between Romney and President Obama would look like — with George Stephanopoulos in the role of moderator.
The point, Gingrich supporters said, is to make the case for how poorly Romney would do in a matchup against Obama because he is not sufficiently conservative to provide a stark contrast.
Romney’s campaign responded to news of the ad by charging that Gingrich “has been an unreliable leader” during his three decades in Washington.
“While conservatives were fighting job-killing cap-and-trade schemes, Speaker Gingrich shared a loveseat with Nancy Pelosi at the behest of Al Gore,” Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul said in a statement. “Conservatives are looking for a reliable leader who they can count on to stand by their side.”
A Gingrich surge in South Carolina could muddy — and extend — a race in which Romney, after a narrow win in Iowa and a decisive one in New Hampshire, is increasingly seen as the inevitable nominee. But Gingrich’s challenge, after placing fourth in Iowa and fifth in New Hampshire, remains huge. Not only was he damaged by the millions in negative advertising that a pro-Romney group has run against him, but he is competing for many of the same votes as former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum, who surged in the standings after losing the Iowa caucuses to Romney by just eight votes.
Rick Tyler, a spokesman for the pro-Gingrich PAC, Winning Our Future, said the committee has now purchased a total of $3.8 million in advertising in South Carolina in advance of Saturday’s primary. Gregg Phillips, who produced the ad for the PAC, said it is the first of three to come that use humor to make the case that Romney is too similar to Obama in ideology to effectively challenge him in the general election.
“We want people to know that, while the establishment rallies around Mitt Romney and expects us all to viscerally march off the cliff after him, he cannot beat Barack Obama,” Tyler said. “Their policy positions for most of their lives have mirrored each other. From abortion to defending the family to raising taxes to gun control, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney shared the same views.”
Both the Gingrich campaign ad and pro-Gingrich PAC ad will begin rotation on South Carolina stations Wednesday morning.
This post has been updated since it was first published.