Newt Gingrich campaigns in Iowa_311.
(photo credit: Reuters)
COLUMBIA, S.C. - These are desperate times for Newt Gingrich.
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But this is the audience he's been waiting for: South Carolina's evangelical Christians, who he hopes will rescue his flagging big for the Republican presidential nomination.
His message to them is direct and urgent: Christians are under attack, and Republicans shouldn't trust Mitt Romney to always oppose abortion.
"We will not tolerate a speech dictatorship in this country against Christianity," the former House speaker told a crowd of 300 in Rock Hill, South Carolina on Wednesday, railing against what he has called government intrusions on Catholic charities and other religious organizations.
Gingrich is one of three conservatives - along with former Pennsylvania
senator Rick Santorum and Texas governor Rick Perry - trying to rally
evangelicals here to vote as a group in South Carolina's Jan. 21 primary
and slow down Romney's rush to the nomination.
Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, has won the first two contests
in the nomination process, in Iowa and New Hampshire, and has led recent
But South Carolina - where two-thirds of Republican voters told
pollsters in 2008 that they attend church once a week and seven in 10
said they believed abortion should be illegal - could be a tougher venue
Despite Romney's front-runner status, many conservatives aren't sold on
him because of his record in relatively liberal Massachusetts, where he
once supported abortion rights.
Gingrich, under fire from some fellow Republicans for calling Romney a
job killer for his time as a private equity executive, is also attacking
Romney with the evangelical audience.Gingrich TV adds attack 'pro-abortion' Romney
In South Carolina, Gingrich's campaign has begun airing TV ads that call
Romney "pro-abortion," and telling voters that Romney - who says he now
opposes the procedure - cannot be trusted to be reliably anti-abortion.
Gingrich, who is in his third marriage and is a converted Catholic, is
wooing an evangelical electorate in which voters are struggling to
decide which Republican candidate best speaks for them.
"Politicians are supposed to do the best for God and country," said
James Black, 73, who attended a speech by Gingrich in Columbia on
Thursday. "I'm looking and praying that God will tell me who to vote
Pastors here and across the South are facing similar questions in
wrestling over whether to accept Romney, or push for an alternative they
This weekend, some of the nation's most influential Christian leaders
will gather at a ranch near Brenham, Texas, hoping to emerge united
behind one candidate.
Brad Atkins, president of the South Carolina Baptist Convention,
expressed a frustration that no candidate in the Republican field
represents the complete package for his followers.
"If you could take the articulation of the speaker, if you could take
the backbone and tenacity of Rick Perry, the intellectual mind and
philosophy of (Texas congressman) Ron Paul and then the youth of
Santorum, you'd have the super candidate," Atkins said. "Instead, we've
got four men who bring four different things to the table, and it's
splintering the (conservative) vote."