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PALMETTO PALM READING

South Carolina press and public are puzzling over Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich’s decision to appear at a homeownership rally in Columbia on Thursday with Rep. James E. Clyburn, the Palmetto State’s only Democratic congressman. The pair will stand side by side on the Statehouse steps despite the fact that Mr. Clyburn recently told MSNBC that Mr. Gingrich was easily provoked, does not have the temperament to be president and would not win the GOP nomination.

The Home Builders Association of South Carolina and the National Association of Home Builders organized the event to draw attention to proposed lending proposals. Critics, however, are likening the Clyburn/Gingrich appearance to a 2008 public service announcement on climate change featuring then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Mr. Gingrich. Fans say Mr. Gingrich is there to counter any “pro-Obama” remarks Mr. Clyburn will deliver and has his own message. And just for fun: Joining Mr. Gingrich and Mr. Clyburn will be state Treasurer Curtis Loftis, who has endorsed Gingrich rival Mitt Romney.

TOUR DE FORCE

With Iowa and New Hampshire in their rearview mirrors, the Republican hopefuls have buffed up a shining new crop of strategically themed tours, mottos and gimmickry to get through 10 days of South Carolina campaigns before the Jan. 21 primary — a veritable eternity on the presidential trail.

Jon Huntsman Jr. has abandoned his “Restoring America Tour” in favor of a “Country First Tour,” to be launched Wednesday in Columbia. Newt Gingrich inaugurates a newfangled “Jobs & Growth Tour” when he arrives in Rock Hill for his first town-hall meeting.

Ever mindful of his dwindling chances to secure the GOP nomination, Texas Gov. Rick Perry now hammers on the idea that he is the sole “non-D.C., non-Wall Street candidate” with genuine tea party roots. Front-runner Mitt Romney still touts his “believe in America” theme though he urges folks to get out the vote and “earn it for Mitt.”

Rick Santorum has taken to peddling sweaters.

Those who donate $100 to his campaign by Wednesday receive an official Rick Santorum sweater vest in gray cotton and “perfect for demonstrating solidarity with true conservatives,” the candidate suggests.

BUMPER PATROL

“Vote Generic Republican for President 2012”

- bumper sticker spotted in Ames, Iowa

INEVITABLY ACCEPTABLE

Forget dramatic talk about conservative standard-bearers, or which Republican hopeful is “authentic.” The operative term now is “acceptable.”

Press and pollsters have lost interest in tracking the best “non-Romney candidate” and now the willingness of GOP voters to simply settle for Mitt Romney. Eight out of 10 say they can “live” with Mr. Romney, says a National Review poll, while Gallup reveals that 59 percent of conservative Republicans — as well as their moderate or liberal brethren — deem Mr. Romney the “acceptable” candidate for the 2012 nomination.

About half of conservative Republicans say the same of Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum; both attract the approval of a third of moderate or liberal Republicans, Gallup says, based on a voter survey that ended Sunday.

“A little more than a month ago, Gingrich was leading in national support and acceptability, and almost as many Republicans expected him to win as thought Romney would win the nomination. Santorum was very low in polling on all measures at that time,” notes pollster Frank Newport, who cautions that Mr. Romney’s national standing could still suffer if he doesn’t rule state primaries.

“Currently, however, Gallup’s updated measures of support, expectations and acceptability show that Romney is decidedly the front-runner at the national level,” Mr. Newport declares.

HEROIC MEASURES

Superman once stood fast for “truth, justice and the American way.” But alas, comic book and film superheroes are now part of the blame-America-first crowd, sullenly condemning military might, fossil fuels and capitalism, among other things. Enough is enough, says conservative culture blogger Darin Wagner, who blames this intrusion of newfound sociopolitical consciousness on liberal creators who can’t contain personal ideology.

“Simply put, there’s too much liberalism in comic books today,” Mr. Wagner explains. “For the good of the comic book industry, this escalation and domination of liberal sentiment has got to stop, and it’s got to stop quick.”

The author, whose work appears in the British pop culture review Bleedingcool.com, continues, “Everybody knows that when an entertainer goes political, he or she runs the very serious risk of cutting their audience by at least half. The comic book audience has been getting smaller and smaller, and I think its time to honestly consider that a big part of the problem is the content.”

POLL DU JOUR

• 56 percent of Americans say that President Obama’s focus on heath care reform adversely affected the economy.

• 84 percent of Republicans, 81 percent of conservatives, 31 percent of Democrats and 27 percent of liberals agree.

• 49 percent overall say positions the president has taken have “hurt the country.”

• 82 percent of Republicans, 78 percent of conservatives, 21 percent of Democrats and 21 percent of liberals agree.

• 49 percent overall say Mr. Obama’s “diverse background” is an asset.

• 22 percent of Republicans, 23 percent of conservatives, 75 percent of Democrats and 75 percent of liberals agree.

• 44 percent overall say he has “done little as president.”

• 73 percent of Republicans, 70 percent of conservatives, 17 percent of Democrats and 17 percent of liberals agree.

• 44 percent overall would not vote for Mr. Obama.

• 87 percent of Republicans, 79 percent of conservatives, 11 percent of Democrats and 9 percent of liberals agree.

Source: A Harris Poll of 2,237 U.S. adults conducted Dec. 5-12 and released Tuesday.

Murmurs, asides, churlish admonishments to jharper@washingtontimes.com

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