Mitt Romney’s one campaign event on this debate day was a rally before his campaign headquarters in a distinctly non-elitist strip mall (nearby tenants include the Kingdom Vision Christian Center and the Bending to the Light Holistic Wellness Center) in the west-of-Ashley neighborhood of Charleston.
As usual, the Romney people structured the event to minimize the number of hecklers and hostile voters; the site and time was announced to news media but not widely disseminated, and the Romney people cordoned off a small portion of the parking lot to make sure the crowd of about 150 people looked packed. Romney was introduced by South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley (to whom Romney later sang Happy Birthday), former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty and Senator (and former OMB Director) Rob Portman.
I chatted for a while with Romney media adviser Stuart Stevens about Rick Perry’s withdrawal and endorsement of Newt Gingrich and the two polls showing Gingrich suddenly ahead in South Carolina. “Its’ always a race,” Stevens said. “Having a shot here is amazing. There’s always a fight. We always knew that.” I asked him whether Romney was, as I argued in my Examiner news analysis today, not prepared to give a convincing answer on his taxes. He said nothing.
Romney started by talking about his wife’s family (her father came to America as a boy, the son of a Welsh coal miner) and his own father’s upward mobility (he was born in Mexico and his father went broke as a plaster contractor), and he made the point that he could have stayed in Michigan and worked in the car industry but instead went to work in a new industry.
When, with some luck and hard work, you are successful, he said, “You don’t make other people poorer, you make other people better off.” He noted that Barack Obama is visiting DisneyWorld and said he was making his speech in Fantasyland—and has been living in Fantasyland if he doesn’t know there is 9.9% unemployment (the South Carolina figure), that folks are finding they can’t retire, that veterans who are coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan can’t find work. He hit Obama for the NLRB’s action against Boeing and for stopping the Keystone XL pipeline and said “this has made it harder for people to go to work.”
Then he went after Newt Gingrich, ridiculing Gingrich’s claim that he deserves credit for the Reagan administration policies that resulted in the creation of millions of jobs. Stevens pointed out to me that the published version of Reagan’s diaries (he showed me the text on his iPad) contains just one mention of Gingrich, identified in a 1983 entry (after the first tax and spending cuts were passed) as a young Republican congressman who called for a spending freeze—which Reagan rejected because he said it would freeze defense spending, and that if he made an exception for defense all the special interests would demand one too.
As Romney was walking into his cramped headquarters, I asked him (as I had asked Stevens) whether they were going to run the spots posted on the web showing former House members Susan Molinari and Jim Talent harshly attacking Gingrich. Molinari and Talent are unknown outside their home areas, but they're serious people and their critique of Gingrich, if taken seriously, is devastating. Romney looked taken aback at the question and said he had no comment. They won’t be running on these last two nights in South Carolina, apparently, but I wonder whether we’ll see them in Florida.