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The libertarian-leaning Ron Paul, whose support has slipped with his light campaign effort here, went ahead with his address to the Southern Republican group and said Saturday’s primary could be a “significant event” that will help propel his insurgent campaign forward. He also warned voters not to back candidates who support the status quo and who won’t make deep cuts to federal spending.

Santorum, at an afternoon campaign stop, tried to dismiss Paul as a non-factor in a field that has been winnowed to four.

“There are four, three of whom have a chance to win the nomination,” he said.

DeMint, appearing on CBS’ “This Morning,” predicted that Saturday’s victor “is likely to be the next president of the United States.”

Romney seemed to agree. His campaign released a new web ad with the tagline: “On Saturday South Carolina Picks a President.” The ad included words of praise for him from South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and Arizona Sen. John McCain, the party’s 2008 nominee.

Recent polls, coupled with Perry’s endorsement of Gingrich, suggested Gingrich was the candidate with the momentum and Romney the one struggling to validate his standing as front-runner.

Gingrich released his income tax records during the course of Thursday’s debate, paving the way to discussing Romney’s. The wealthy former venture capitalist has said he will release them in April, prompting Gingrich to suggest that would be too late for voters to decide if they presented evidence Obama could exploit.

“If there’s anything that’s in there that’s going to help us lose the election, we should know before the election. If there’s not, why not release it?” Gingrich said. His effective tax rate, roughly 31.6 percent of his adjusted income, was about double what Romney told reporters earlier this week he had paid.

Romney, asked about the issue Friday on Fox News Channel, said he didn’t want to give Obama and the Democrats a “nice little present of having multiple releases.” He said past GOP nominees John McCain and George W. Bush before him released their taxes at tax deadline time, and said he’d do likewise. He didn’t say how many years of returns he would release.

He shifted to offense in calling on Gingrich to release more records from his ethics investigation.

In January 1997, Gingrich became the first speaker ever reprimanded and fined for ethics violations, slapped with a $300,000 penalty. Gingrich admitted he’d failed to follow legal advice concerning the use of tax-exempt contributions to advance potentially partisan goals.

Romney’s supporters, meanwhile, went after Gingrich, arguing in a conference call with reporters that as House speaker he oversaw spending on lawmakers’ special projects. Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., called Gingrich “the granddaddy of earmarks.” Rep. John Campbell, R-Calif., said Gingrich was “the guy who began the process which led to the debts and deficits that we have.”