Former US House of Representatives speaker Newt Gingrich surged in the Republican White House race ahead of today’s key South Carolina vote after lambasting the US media and his rivals in another fiery debate.
Gingrich slammed the media on Thursday for digging into his history of marital infidelity and sparred with his top rival, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, as the four remaining candidates battled for the hearts of southern conservatives.
A Public Policy Polling (PPP) survey released on Thursday showed Gingrich (35 percent) with a 6 percentage point lead over Romney (29 percent), with US Representative Ron Paul and former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum tied at 15 percent just 36 hours before the state primary.
Gingrich has risen with a series of feisty debate performances, and on Thursday came out -swinging with a blistering reply to the first debate question that drew a standing ovation from a crowd of southern Republicans.
Asked about his second ex-wife’s claim in a TV interview that he asked her to have an “open marriage,” Gingrich denied the claim as “false” and called the question “as close to despicable as anything I can imagine.”
“I am tired of the elite media protecting [US President] Barack Obama by attacking Republicans,” said Gingrich, who as speaker in the 1990s hounded then-US president Bill Clinton over an extra-marital affair.
Gingrich aimed for a surprise victory over Romney after saying that the former governor and multi-millionaire investor would lock up the party’s presidential nomination with a win in South Carolina.
Romney strove to deflect attacks from Gingrich that he built his vast fortune while firing workers, saying he expected such jibes from Obama, not fellow Republicans — -traditionally the party of business.
“I know we’re going to get hit hard from President Obama, but we’re going to stuff it down his throat and point out [that] it is capitalism and freedom that makes America strong,” Romney said.
Gingrich charged that the approach of Romney’s Bain Capital firm was to “take over a company and dramatically leverage it, leave it with a great deal of debt, [make] it less likely to survive.”
Santorum, a Christian conservative, joined in, saying Republicans must help “working men and women of this country who are out there paddling alone.”
Romney struggled with an audience member’s question about when he would make public his tax filings — as is customary for presidential contenders — days after he revealed he paid 15 percent of his income to the government.
“I’ll release my returns in April and probably for other years as well,” he said, describing himself as “someone who’s lived in the real streets of America.”
Romney, who has insisted he is the most electable Republican even as his once robust lead has dwindled, happily trained his fire on the Democratic incumbent he hopes to take on in November.
“This president is the biggest impediment to job growth in this country. And we have to replace Barack Obama to get America working again,” he said.
Romney, the party establishment’s favorite and the off-again, on-again frontrunner over the past year, hopes a convincing win in South Carolina would let him wrap up the nomination.
However, he faced several setbacks on Thursday: Texas Governor Rick Perry dropped out of the race and endorsed Gingrich, raising the prospect that fragmented conservatives could rally around a single alternative to Romney.