Fiesty Gingrich makes plea for evangelical vote

Republican presidential candidate attacks front-runner Romney on abortion in attempt to woo South Carolina Christians.

By REUTERS
January 13, 2012 07:11
2 minute read.
Newt Gingrich campaigns in Iowa

Newt Gingrich campaigns in Iowa_311. (photo credit: Reuters)

 
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COLUMBIA, S.C. - These are desperate times for Newt Gingrich.

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.

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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 polls here.

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 for Romney.



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 for."

Pastors here and across the South are facing similar questions in wrestling over whether to accept Romney, or push for an alternative they like better.

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."

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