Newt-mentum: Gingrich Up in Polls as Support for Mitt Romney Drops

Former House speaker courts right-wing voters before crucial primary.

January 18, 2012, 1:40 PM

Jan. 18, 2012— -- Less than three days before the primary that could determine the Republican presidential nominee, Newt Gingrich is edging up in polls and narrowing the margin against front-runner Mitt Romney.

In a new CNN/Time/ORC poll released this afternoon, Romney is garnering 33 percent support in the Palmetto State, 4 percentage points lower than in early January. Gingrich, meanwhile, surpassed Rick Santorum, coming in second in the poll with 23 percent support. At 10 percent, Gingrich has sliced Romney's lead in half since earlier this month, and the Romney camp sees the margins narrowing.

The poll is a sign of hope for Gingrich, who slumped in polls right before the nation's first caucuses and primaries, but could make a comeback. Thirty-five percent of those polled said they might change their mind, indicating that there is still a large group that could propel Gingrich to the No. 1 spot.

Gingrich is pulling out all the stops to establish his conservative credentials and convince South Carolina Republicans to coalesce behind him less than three days before the primary that could determine the Republican presidential nominee.

The former House speaker today divulged his tax information, for instance, saying he paid a 31 percent rate in 2010, as a snub to front-runner Mitt Romney, who has been relatively silent on the issue. Gingrich said he will release his full 2010 return Thursday and 2011 tax information later.

After taking much heat for not releasing his tax returns, a reluctant Romney said Tuesday that he pays a tax rate "probably closer to the 15 percent rate than anything," a comment on which Gingrich pounced.

"I'm thrilled at the idea that Mitt, I assume this afternoon, will endorse my flat-tax proposal and have every American pay it the way he paid," Gingrich said in a jab to his rival. "I think we ought to rename our flat tax -- we have a 15 percent flat tax -- so this would be the 'Mitt Romney flat tax.' All Americans would pay the rate Mitt Romney paid. I think it's terrific."

Gingrich's performance Monday night and his strong words against Romney's super PAC attack ads once again helped boost him in the polls.

Gingrich was the only candidate to receive a standing ovation, the only one seen in debates this primary season. The audience stood up and cheered when the former congressman answered a question about welfare and said "every American of every background has been endowed by their creator with the right to pursue happiness."

The spot is featured in a new ad released today by the campaign, titled "The Moment."

Gingrich's performance Monday has injected new momentum into his campaign and is making conservatives once wary of his candidacy to do a double take.

Conservative talk-show host and founder of, Erick Erickson, who once didn't think Gingrich's campaign would make it past the summer, today called on Rick Perry to drop out of the race and endorse Gingrich. Erickson hosted the event where Perry announced his candidacy. His support comes a day after another influential conservative radio host, Laura Ingraham, praised Gingrich's debate performance and Sarah Palin said that if she were a South Carolinian, she would vote for him to keep the race going. Her husband, Todd, had already officially endorsed Gingrich.

"If I had to vote in South Carolina, in order to keep this thing going, I'd vote for Newt and I would want this to continue," Palin said.

Conservatives in the staunchly red state of South Carolina are still skeptical of Romney's record, giving Gingrich an opening.

"If I don't win the primary Saturday, we will probably nominate a moderate and the odds are fairly high he will lose to Obama," the former speaker warned the crowd at a meeting of business leaders Tuesday. "You need somebody who's tough, somebody who's articulate."

In a sign that Gingrich's attack message may be gaining traction, Romney went on the offensive against his rival, this time on his jobs record.

"The speaker, the other day at the debate, was talking about how he created millions of jobs when he was working with the Reagan administration," Romney said today. "Well, he'd been in Congress two years when Ronald Reagan came into office. That'd be like saying 435 congressmen were all responsible for those jobs. Government doesn't create jobs. It's the private sector that creates jobs.

"Congressmen taking responsibility or taking credit for helping create jobs is like Al Gore taking credit for the Internet," he added, laughing.

Romney is also hitting hard at Gingrich with a new web ad released today called "undisciplined." The ad features Susan Molinari, former congresswoman from New York, describing Gingrich's style as "leadership by chaos."

Another Romney surrogate, former Missouri Sen. Jim Talent, this morning assailed Gingrich for using "the language of the left" to attack Romney and undermining the conservative movement in "outrageous and destructive ways."

The biggest challenges for Gingrich, however, are Santorum and Perry, who are taking almost one-third of the vote in the new CNN/Time/ORC poll. Gingrich is unabashedly and publicly urging conservatives to get behind him, suggesting that voting for either of the other two would only boost Romney because neither of them can win.

Santorum has called Gingrich's suggestion "arrogant," pointing to his No. 2 finish in the Iowa caucuses, where he lost to Romney by eight votes, and his tie with Gingrich in the New Hampshire primary.

"It is an enormous amount of hubris for someone who lost their first two races," to imply that he should be the presumptive choice for conservatives, Santorum said of Gingrich Tuesday.

All four candidates were out on the campaign trail courting South Carolinians. One candidate that was notably absent from the Palmetto State today, however, was Ron Paul. The congressman from Texas, who was booed in Monday night's debate on his foreign policy answers, has taken a break from the campaign trail and is in Washington, D.C.. to vote for a bill against raising the debt ceiling to $1.2 trillion, as the president has requested.

The South Carolina primary is a crucial test for Republican candidates. Every candidate since 1980 who has won that state has gone on to win his party's nomination. It is also an important bellwether of how other southern states will lean in their caucuses and primaries.

ABC News' Elicia Dover and Emily Friedman contributed to this report.