Low Turnout at Republican Conference Causes Newt Gingrich to Cancel Appearance, Ron Paul Addresses Near-Empty Auditorium
CHARLESTON, S.C. - Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich cancelled the first of his four events Friday, just one day before the South Carolina republican primary.
Turnout at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference had been low all week, including for other presidential candidates scheduled to speak. But Gingrich was the only one to cancel. .
"The campaign came to a mutual agreement with the organizers that based on a attendance we would go ahead and spend more time with the children of Charleston at the children's hospital," said campaign spokesman Nathan Naidu.
Conference organizers cited a "scheduling conflict" to the press in attendance.
Attendance at the 6,000 seat TD Arena was around 25 people. Low turn out at the conference was also a factor yesterday for Rick Santorum's speech, where one attendee said the crowd was somewhere between 20 and 25 people. A spokesman for the event told ABC News 1,700 people signed up for the event, but could not explain the unenthusiastic crowds.
"We are getting right into the heart of primary season here in South Carolina. Tomorrow is voting day, so I can't tell you exactly what the factors were for attendance at the arena today. I do not believe it was a function of the speaker, we have had top notch speakers and candidates," SRLC spokesman Erin Callanan said.
Ron Paul arrived at the event shortly after Gingrich cancelled today and delivered a short speech to an arena of empty seats, peppered with people.
Event attendee Dixie Carlson drove from West Memphis, Arkansas to attend the event and wanted to experience the candidates during primary week. Carlson was at the event yesterday and said the crowd for Santorum was "very small." Carlson said the Gingrich cancellation was understandable.
"I'm disappointed that he's not gonna be here, but I don't blame him-there's not many people here," Carlson said.
Carlson said the lack of enthusiasm might be because of fatigue from the primary.
"But where the debate was last night it was overflowing," Carlson said.
Gingrich and his wife, Callista went to their second event at the S.C. Children's hospital in Charleston, where Callista read her book to several hospitalized children and toured the hospital.