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Republican primary: South Carolina set for close finish

January 21, 2012 11:46 IST

With a confident Newt Gingrich showing signs of surge just hours ahead of the key Republican presidential primary in South Carolina, longtime front-runner Mitt Romney has acknowledged that he is "battling hard" in the state where he could even end up on the losing side.

"We're battling hard. The fact is that right now it looks like it's neck and neck. That's a pretty good spot to be in," Romney, 64, who till 10 days ago was leading by more than a double digit margin, said at a news conference, with Indian-American Governor of the state, Nikki Haley, standing by his side.

His remarks came as latest opinion polls reflected that 68-year-old Gingrich, after two impressive performances in debates in less than a week, is closing in the gap with former Massachusetts Governor Romney and has even reached the stage of error of margin ahead of Saturday's primary.

"Do I think we could lose South Carolina? Sure. Of course," Romney's strategist Stuart Stevens said.      On the other hand, the campaign of Gingrich, former speaker of the US House of Representatives, was predicting that he will win South Carolina primary by four to six points.

News reports and pollsters said that the manner in which Gingrich responded to the allegation by his second ex-wife that he had asked for an "open marriage" in which he could have both a wife and a mistress, has gone in the favour of the former Speaker.

When asked by a voter about his past mistakes, Gingrich had said such questions were inevitable but added that he had long since sought forgiveness.

The other two candidates left in the race are Rick Santorum, former Senator from Pennsylvania, and Ron Paul, the Congressman from Texas.

"Just in the past 48 hours, we have seen Newt Gingrich start surging here in South Carolina, and it's setting up a two-man race," Gina Smith, political reporter, for The State Newspaper from Columbia in South Carolina told foreign journalists in a conference call.

Gingrich's better performance in the two debates is mainly responsible for his surge.

"These two debates, and in both of the debates here in South Carolina, South Carolinians feel  that Newt Gringrich just stole the show, that he won it outright. He is serving as a mouthpiece to South Carolinians' anger, I would say. South Carolinians, the electorate, is angry right now," Smith said.

In last 24 hours, there were four or five polls and in each of them former Massachusetts Governor Romney and Gingrich were separated just by a couple of percentage points.

"Some had Romney ahead of Gingrich, but just by a tiny bit, and in some polls Gingrich was actually ahead of Romney. So this is a real nail biter in South Carolina," Smith said.

The State newspaper report said that Santorum is still in the race.

"He is sort of a second-tier candidate though. South Carolinians take their role of electing -- or choosing the eventual nominee very seriously, so electability matters a lot too," Smith said.

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