CHARLESTON, S.C. - Mitt Romney said today he's "the ideal candidate" for the Tea Party movement because his stance on issues lines up "pretty darn well" with the movement he says will soon realize that GOP frontrunner Newt Gingrich isn't their best option for president.
"I recognize that the speaker has a big lead here," Romney said of Gingrich in a press conference in South Carolina. "But I think as people take a closer and closer look, they'll recognize that I reflect more effectively the positions which they hold on key issues.
"I think Tea Partiers may have listened to the first debate where we discussed the speaker's compensation from Freddie Mac, for instance. And he said, I think he said that he got $300,000 from Freddie Mac and it was to work as an historian. And as time has gone on we find out it's $1.6 million and he worked as a spokesman for, in providing support for Freddie Mac," Romney said. "I think as tea partiers concentrate on that for instance, they'll say, wow, this really isn't the guy that would represent our views."
The tea party, Romney said, is "anxious to have people who are outside Washington coming in to change Washington, as opposed to people who stayed in Washington for 30 years."
"And I believe on the issues, as well, that I line up with a smaller government, a less intrusive government, regulations being pared back, holding down the tax rates of the American people, maintaining a strong defense, and so many Tea Party folks are going to find me, I believe to be the ideal candidate," Romney said. "I sure hope so."
Recounting his positions on promoting a smaller, leaner government, Romney said he lines up "pretty darn well" with the tea party movement.
Pressed as to whether he believes Gingrich lobbied for Freddie Mac, Romney wouldn't explicitly say, remarking only that "when it walks like a duck and it quacks like a duck, typically it's a duck."
Just Friday, Romney scooped up the endorsement of South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who was backed by the tea party during her 2010 election. But despite the movement's help in her successful election, Haley said today that there is "no such things as a tea party candidate," only a candidate who is supported by the movement.
Haley expressed her optimism that despite Gingrich's high poll standing in the state, South Carolina tea party members haven't made up their minds yet.
"What makes tea party groups great is because they take time on the issues," Haley said. "Tea partiers can't be locked up … individuals who participate in the tea party make their own decisions. They're strong minded, they're well educated, and at the end of the day they don't listen to anyone they do what they know is right."