COLUMBIA, S.C.– Less than 24 hours before the polls open for the Republican primary here, one of Newt Gingrich’s top operatives in South Carolina predicted what pundits and pols considered unthinkable less than a week ago: that the former House speaker would score an outright victory over Mitt Romney in the primary contest Saturday of which every winner since Ronald Reagan has gone on to be the GOP nominee for President.
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Echoing his candidate’s own line that the race was between “a proven conservative and a Massachusetts moderate,” Gingrich field coordinator Gavin Smith was asked flat-out by HUMAN EVENTS if he felt the Georgian would emerge triumphant in the state where a Rasmussen Poll gave Romney a lead statewide of sixteen percentage points only days ago.
“Yes,” Smith replied without hesitation, citing the response his team of operatives has been getting from across the Palmetto State following Gingrich’s performance in the televised debate in Charleston Thursday.
Smith spoke to us from Gingrich headquarters in downtown Columbia as volunteers began working the phones to turn out supporters on January 21st.
In explaining that conservatives throughout the state were turning to Gingrich, Smith emphasized that the campaign was not one of “Newt vs. Romney, or Newt vs. Santorum or Paul but Newt versus the one we have to defeat, Barack Obama.”
As Smith made his prediction to us, the just-completed Rasmussen Poll showed Gingrich edging Romney by 33 percent to 31 percent among likely voters Saturday, with Rick Santorum and Ron Paul in a near-tie for the third place.