The Big Conversation:
Shifting dynamics have jolted the already unsettled race in South Carolina — but not, it seems, to any Texas candidate's benefit.
Instead, the increasingly bitter race has sharpened the battle between Newt Gingrich, whose fiery debate performance on Monday earned him a standing ovation, and Mitt Romney, who faces new scrutiny over his tax returns.
"I fully expect the Romney campaign to be unendingly dirty and dishonest," Gingrich said Wednesday in Warrenville, S.C., after the Romney camp released new web video calling Gingrich an "undisciplined leader." The former U.S House speaker added, "I think they have internal polls showing them losing. I think they will do anything at any level."
Romney, whom Rick Perry first called on to release his tax records, disclosed on Tuesday that he pays an effective tax rate of about 15 percent. Gingrich responded that he pays about 30 percent, suggesting he makes significantly less money than Romney.
Two new polls confirm that the contest in South Carolina has narrowed to a two-person race, with Gingrich 7 points behind Romney, 37-30, in a new Politico poll and 10 points behind, 34-24, him in a new NBC News poll.
Both polls show Ron Paul in third place, Rick Santorum in fourth and Perry dead last, still mired in the single digits.
As for the Texas governor, whom Gingrich has called on to drop out to avert a Romney victory?
“He’s in it to win it,” Perry spokesman Mark Miner told reporters Wednesday afternoon at Perry’s hotel in Greenville, S.C., where, as the Tribune's Jay Root writes, "plans for a victory celebration are taking on a funereal quality."
- The Des Moines Register reports today that Rick Santorum finished ahead of Mitt Romney in the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses by 34 votes. Though results from eight precincts are missing, and will never be recovered, certified numbers now show Santorum on top rather than eight votes behind, as had been declared on election night.
- Mass online protests Wednesday — led by sites like Google and Wikipedia, which blacked out its entire English-language site for the day — appeared to have slowed two pieces of federal anti-piracy legislation as several prominent backers of the bills withdrew their support. U.S. Sen. John Cornyn on Facebook urged his colleagues to carefully consider the legislation, saying, "Stealing content is theft, plain and simple, but concerns about unintended damage to the internet and innovation in the tech sector require a more thoughtful balance, which will take more time." Rep. Lamar Smith, the San Antonio Republican who introduced the House's Stop Online Privacy Act, defended the legislation. "I don't see how the opponents can justify the continuation of illegal websites and the continued theft of American inventions and products, and that's what they are doing," Smith told The Dallas Morning News. "It's disappointing that they're promoting fear instead of facts. Either they haven't read the bill or maybe they have a hidden agenda."
- Erick Erickson, the editor of RedState, the website that hosted the event at which Rick Perry announced his candidacy for president, on Wednesday called on the governor to leave the race. "If Rick Perry stays in the race, conservatives opposed to Mitt Romney will be legitimately able to blame Rick Perry for dragging down either Newt or Santorum," he wrote. "If the person he endorses doesn’t win the nomination, it still doesn’t hurt him as much as staying in to take a few deciding votes." Another prominent conservative, radio host Laura Ingraham, said the same on Wednesday, tweeting, "It's time for Rick Perry to drop out of the race — he is only helping Romney by splitting the vote."
"If I win the primary Saturday, I will be the nominee. If I don’t win the primary on Saturday, we will probably nominate a moderate and he will lose to Obama." — Newt Gingrich speaking in South Carolina on Tuesday
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