Romney ducks Gingrich at Ham House

GREENVILLE, S.C. — Mitt Romney made a quick, early stop at Tommy’s Ham House on Saturday morning, moving up his appearance to avoid overlapping with Newt Gingrich.

The two had accidentally double-booked the popular restaurant at 10:45 a.m. — Gingrich had called ahead to let the restaurant know he was coming, while Romney initially had not. 

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On Friday, Gingrich challenged Romney to an impromptu debate at the breakfast spot, but Romney didn’t take the bait. The former Massachusetts governor said Friday night that he would not move the time, but the campaign changed its plans Saturday.

Romney made a quick speech asking for support at 10 a.m. instead and made a fast loop around the restaurant shaking hands with supporters. After a few minutes he was back on the bus as Romney and Gingrich supporters outside tried to drown each other out with chants. 

The campaign bus sat outside the restaurant for a while as Romney campaign staff tried to round up supporters who came down from Virginia to back the governor.

Gingrich arrived a bit early, and he had many supporters in the crowd as Romney spoke. But he did not enter the restaurant until 20 minutes after Romney.  Gingrich spokesman Nathan Naidu joked that he wanted to come in earlier but, “There’s this big white bus blocking our parking spot.”

Once he arrived, Gingrich took a few shots at Romney. 

“I have a question — where’s Mitt? I thought he was going to stay and maybe we’d have a little debate here this morning,” he said as the crowd cheered and a few supporters made clucking chicken noises.

Later in his speech, Gingrich touted his southern roots. “As a Georgian I find an awful lot of places like Tommy’s Ham House to be sort of familiar. I don’t think they serve New England clam chowder here, but this is good eating, as all of you know,” he said.

Romney has trailed Gingrich by an increasingly wide gap in recent polls of the state. His support has held relatively steady but Gingrich has managed to coalesce the anti-Romney vote and currently leads him by a solid margin in polls.

While Romney got quickly back on the bus, a top surrogate, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R), stuck around for a while shaking hands with voters.

She had predicted earlier on Friday that Romney would win the state, but seemed to walk back the comments later in the day. She did the same thing Saturday morning — when The Hill asked if she still thought Romney would win, she dodged the question.

“I’m excited as ever. The energy, the passion around South Carolina, this is what we do. It’s all about primaries. We have smart people who know their issues, the fight it out ‘til the end and on that day it all comes together,” she said.

When pressed, Haley repeated her claim that Romney would win the state, but tried to quickly move away from the topic. 

“Listen, I’ve always thought he was going to win, and I know he’s going to win the White House. It’s a job president, I desperately need a partner in the White House. I desperately need someone who’s going to let me bring jobs to South Carolina and not fight me any step of the way.”

Haley also denied that the Romney campaign had asked her to soften her predictions of victory. 

“Oh, no, no,” she said. “Listen, I’m as strong as ever. I may be a little tired but I’m as strong as ever.”