In early October, Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich sat down for an impromptu interview with South Carolina Radio Network. At the time, his campaign was struggling to gain momentum—his numbers were within the margin of error in many polls, he had no staff in South Carolina, and he was constantly battling reporters’ questions about whether or not he was even running a serious campaign.
What a difference eight weeks makes.
Following the collapse of rival Herman Cain’s popularity, Gingrich’s poll numbers have gone up dramatically. An Insider Advantage survey conducted for the Augusta Chronicle newspaper this week found Gingrich had the support of 38 percent of likely GOP primary voters, more than twice the amount of the next two highest Mitt Romney (15 percent) and Herman Cain (13 percent).
Those numbers seem to back up a national trend, as Gingrich is now widely viewed as the latest frontrunner in a Republican race that has been in flux since early summer.
Gingrich is now trying to capitalize on that popularity by making several stops across South Carolina, capped off Tuesday night by a town hall meeting in the Newberry Opera House that was hosted by the South Carolina GOP.
“I think we have a very, very real chance,” Gingrich told the crowd of about 400 people, “If we win South Carolina, I predict that I’ll be the nominee.”
AUDIO: Gingrich speaks to SCGOP town hall (17:04)
Tuesday’s event was sold out—a far cry from Gingrich’s tour through the state in October, when only a few dozen people saw him at a Midlands restaurant.
Gingrich spent much of his time Tuesday acting like a frontrunner– attacking President Obama and playing up the differences between them. He called the 2012 election “the most important of our lifetime” because of the “widest choice we’ve had.”
Some questions remain for Gingrich’s campaign, such as whether he can keep his current momentum heading into the Republican nomination and whether he can beat Obama in a head-to-head matchup. Gingrich said he would focus on contrasting his ideas to fix the economy with Obama’s.
“The number one symbol of the 2012 campaign is going to be food stamps versus paychecks,” he told the Newberry audience, “This is the best food stamp president in American history. Barack Obama has put more people on food stamps than any president in history. I would like to be the best paycheck president in American history.”
He did not make any references to his fellow Republicans running against him, focusing instead on the president.
Gingrich will be in Greenville Wednesday morning hosting a town hall at Tommy’s Ham House. The event starts at 8am.