Jan. 11 (Bloomberg) -- Republican presidential candidates turned their attention to South Carolina’s Jan. 21 primary after front-runner Mitt Romney racked up his second victory last night in New Hampshire.
“This primary is the crossroads for this country,” former House Speaker Newt Gingrich told a crowd of more than 300 in Rock Hill, South Carolina, this morning. Gingrich described his opponents as too moderate, too inexperienced and too indecisive to win in November, without ever calling them out by name.
“We have to nominate someone capable of telling the truth against Barack Obama, because you’re not going to beat a billion-dollar machine of dishonesty otherwise,” Gingrich said.
Gingrich and other White House hopefuls are trying to prevent Romney from claiming a win in South Carolina that might effectively wrap up the nomination. Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, is leading nationally and is raking in more campaign cash than his competitors.
In a fundraising appeal, Gingrich said time is running out to challenge Romney.
“We’re going to do it next week in South Carolina or he’s almost certain to be the Republican nominee,” Gingrich said.
After winning the Iowa caucuses on Jan. 3, Romney made history yesterday as the first Republican non-incumbent to win both the New Hampshire primary and the caucuses since Iowa began kicking off the party’s presidential nominating process in 1976.
New Hampshire Totals
Romney got 39 percent of the vote in New Hampshire, according to an Associated Press tally. U.S. Representative Ron Paul of Texas had 23 percent and former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman Jr. won 17 percent.
Gingrich barely beat former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum for fourth place, each with 9 percent of the vote. Texas Governor Rick Perry, who didn’t focus on New Hampshire, got less than 1 percent. All are seeking better showings in South Carolina and Florida, which holds its primary on Jan. 31.
Issues such as gay marriage and abortion hold greater sway with South Carolina voters, and the candidates are playing up their conservative credentials. Gingrich released an ad that attacks Romney’s position on abortion, calling him a “Massachusetts moderate” who “can’t be trusted.”
Romney has said he changed his mind on abortion and now favors anti-abortion laws.
Romney today said the next primary is a bigger hurdle, referencing his first run for the presidency in 2008.
“I face more of an uphill battle in South Carolina than in New Hampshire,” he told reporters on a flight to Columbia, South Carolina. “Last time I came in fourth, so our team recognizes that this is going to be a challenge.”
Money will help; Romney’s campaign today said he raised $24 million in the last three months of 2011 and had $19 million in cash. Paul brought in $13 million, and Gingrich raised about $9 million in the same period, according to earlier statements from their campaigns. All the candidates’ finance reports are due at the end of the month.
Paul and Perry today told South Carolina voters that they have a chance to make a difference.
“We are going to have a lot of influence with the future of this country,” Paul told supporters gathered in an airport hangar in West Columbia.
“New Hampshire and Iowa are wonderful places,” Perry told about 50 supporters in a backroom of a barbeque restaurant in Columbia. “They are a place where you go, I guess, to practice your campaign skills. But they winnow the candidacy down. South Carolina picks presidents.”
Perry also repeated his line that everyone else in the race was either a Washington or Wall Street “insider.”
“I’ve never been associated with what I consider to be this really corrupt relationship between Washington and Wall Street,” Perry said.
Romney is trying to address attacks on his career as a private-equity executive at Boston-based Bain Capital LLC. A film financed by Gingrich backers and set for release in South Carolina attacks Romney as a child of privilege who is “more ruthless than Wall Street.”
The film relates the stories of people who say they lost their jobs after their companies were taken over by Bain, without identifying the workers. While often relying on news accounts, the film at times stretches the truth and takes some reports out of context or selectively edits them, a review by Bloomberg News shows.
“We’ve understood for a long time that the Obama people would come after free enterprise,” Romney said on the flight today. “Little surprised to see Newt Gingrich as the first witness for the prosecution.”
Gingrich, under fire from the pro-business group Club for Growth among others, said today it’s hard to communicate the issues with Bain Capital. After a voter urged him to back off the attacks, Gingrich said he agreed it was “an impossible theme to talk about with Obama in the background.”
Gingrich’s campaign spokesman, R.C. Hammond, said later that the issue is “not about capitalism, it’s about the decisions that Romney made as CEO.”
Top South Carolina Democrats earlier tried to emphasize the attacks, saying that Romney is a Wall Street “high roller.”
Voters are “looking for leaders who are in touch with ordinary people and who are compassionate with their fellow human beings,” said Representative Jim Clyburn, a Democratic leader in the House, at a news conference in Columbia, South Carolina. “Looking at Romney’s record at Bain and on the campaign trail, you see someone who is neither compassionate nor in touch with the dreams and aspirations of ordinary people.”
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