A CNN/Time South Carolina poll released Wednesday showed Mr. Gingrich in second place with support from 23 percent of likely primary voters, having gained 5 percentage points in the past two weeks. Mr. Romney led in the poll with 33 percent, but he had slipped some since the last survey. Mr. Santorum was in third place, narrowly ahead of Texas Rep. Ron Paul and well ahead of Mr. Perry.
Regardless of the South Carolina outcome, Mr. Gingrich was making plans to continue to Florida, which holds its primary Jan. 31.
“There is one candidate who can give you a conservative nominee, and only one candidate who can stop Mitt Romney,” Mr. Gingrich told an overflow crowd of about 400 at Mutt’s BBQ in Easley on Wednesday. “A vote for anyone else is a vote that allows Mitt Romney to potentially be our nominee.”
Confidence exudes from Mr. Gingrich, who rose in Iowa only to be knocked off course after sustaining $3 million in attack ads in Iowa from an outside group that supports Mr. Romney. Mr. Gingrich posted dismal showings in both Iowa and New Hampshire.
By the time the race turned to South Carolina, he was sharply criticizing Mr. Romney as a social moderate who is timid about attacking the nation’s economic troubles. He also raised questions about Mr. Romney’s experience as a venture capitalist, while a super PAC that supports Mr. Gingrich aggressively attacked Mr. Romney as a vicious corporate raider. And Mr. Gingrich ripped Mr. Romney for standing by as a super PAC run by former top Romney political aides continued to attack him in South Carolina.
Mr. Romney ended up on the defensive and by Monday night’s debate, Mr. Gingrich was back in command. He earned a standing ovation when he labeled Democratic President Obama “the best food stamp president in American history.” The clip became the centerpiece of a television ad that began airing Wednesday as Mr. Gingrich worked to cast himself as the Republican with the best chance of beating Mr. Obama in the fall — stealing a page from Mr. Romney’s playbook.
Said Gingrich senior adviser David Winston, “His taking on Barack Obama showed a toughness and an electability that the electorate is looking for.”
Thomas Beaumont reported from Columbia, S.C.
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