NEWBERRY, S.C. — Newt Gingrich is having a really, really good time.
Over a couple of beers along Main Street in this small South Carolina town, the former House speaker reveled late Tuesday in the success of the week: healthy crowds, big energy and his own solid performances in speech after speech during a five-day swing through Florida and South Carolina.
At a bookstore, in a hotel ballroom and, on this particular evening, on the stage of the historic Newberry opera house, Gingrich has been on his game: weaving history and personal experience with self-deprecating humor and sharply partisan zingers into a coherent sales pitch for the presidency.
And no one thinks he's been more coherent than Gingrich himself.
"I’m happy," he declared to a couple of reporters while sipping a Guinness at a small table. "I only have one opponent — the guy I’m going to beat next November."
Gingrich attributed his success on the trail and evolution as a public figure to a few factors: Being 68; being out of office 12 years; his third wife, Callista; his two grandchildren.
"I mean, there does come a point in life – I have a different job," he said. "I was the leader of the conservative Republicans fighting with a liberal Democratic president. I seek to be the leader of the American people. All of them. It’s a different job."
Gingrich bragged about the fact that he rarely mentions his Republican rivals for the nomination, instead focusing on President Obama, the "food-stamp president," he likes to say. He seemed nothing more than amused by the flap that erupted after his chief rival for the nomination, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, poked him during an interview Tuesday on Fox News. Romney called Gingrich a "lifelong politician" and suggested that he doesn't have enough experience to manage the economy well.
Gingrich didn't know about the remarks until a reporter pointed them out. With a smile, he turned to his spokesman, R.C. Hammond, and asked: "Did you know that Mitt Romney said something unkind about me tonight?"
Gingrich didn't shy away from responding to Romney's words ("You're talking to a guy who was dead in June. I'm now being attacked by the former frontrunner.") But he is unconcerned, he said, about the prospect of a sparring match with Romney. And make no mistakes, he's thought through the math.
"I only need the non-Mitt vote," he said. "He's at what, 20 percent? I’m happy to clarify and defend myself. But I have no need to attack Governor Romney because, candidly, I’m happy to have the votes that he doesn’t have. If I can simply mobilize the – assuming that Ron Paul’s votes are not gettable – that’s 10 – assume Romney has, what do we want to give him, 25? – I only want the 65. I’m not greedy."
That word must have been on Gingrich's mind. Earlier in the evening, when a supporter asked if he was healthy, Gingrich had said: "I need to lose weight. Everybody in my life tells me I need to lose weight. They’re right. I just find it really hard to lose weight. God wanted me to be a bear, not a gazelle."
As his second Guinness arrived, an aide jokingly reached for it, but Gingrich slapped his hand away.
"Let’s not be greedy," he said, and then turned back to the reporters. "It's like fighting with bear cubs all around. They all want the salmon."
With that, Gingrich rose and approached his next audience: a long banquet table of supporters who had been waiting to see him.