Only a week ago, Mitt Romney had a double-digit lead in many South Carolina polls and looked as though he could wrap up the Republican nomination with a win Saturday.
That momentum is now gone after an Iowa recount found Romney had actually lost that state to Rick Santorum, then rival Newt Gingrich saw a surge in support after a pair of strong debate performances.
A new Clemson University Palmetto Poll shows Gingrich has received a significant bump this week and is now polling around 32 percent among likely GOP voters. Romney is second with 26 percent. Ron Paul is third with 11 percent support and Santorum is fourth with 9 percent.
During a stop at Harmon’s Tree Farm in Gilbert Friday, Romney himself seemed to temper expectations. He told reporters he’s still “cautiously optimistic,” but otherwise seemed resigned that he could lose South Carolina.
“I said from the very beginning: South Carolina is an uphill battle for a guy from Massachusetts,” Romney said, “I knew that. We’re battling hard. The fact is that right now it looks like it’s neck-and-neck. That’s a pretty good spot to be in.”
He was not giving up, pointing out that hundreds of supporters had braved the weather to attend the Gilbert rally. “When we saw it was cold and raining, we thought we’d have 25 people standing out there… and they would be our staff.”
Romney continued to say he was confident that he could win in the overall national race, “I sure would like to win South Carolina, but I know if those polls are right, (Gingrich and I) are both going to get a lot of delegates. I want as many delegates as I can get.” Romney holds a 15-point lead in Florida– home of the next primary– according to a recent Public Policy Polling survey.
Gingrich continued to press Romney to release his tax reforms. On Friday, the former Massachusetts governor repeated what he said during Thursday’s CNN debate– he would release them when he files his taxes in April.
However, he then called on Gingrich to release confidential documents from Gingrich’s ethics violations while he served as Speaker of the House. However, while campaigning in Orangeburg, Gingrich replied his ethics report is already part of the public record.
“Give me a break,” Gingrich told reporters, “I refuse to take seriously any request from the Romney campaign to disclose anything because they clearly don’t want to disclose anything at any level that involves them.”