Gingrich pats rivals on the back, takes gloves off against Obama

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Newt Gingrich cheered his come-from-behind victory in South Carolina at a victory rally here Saturday night, arguing his win showed that he represented the values of the American people.

"It's not that I'm a good debater, it's that I articulate the deepest felt values of the American people," Gingrich said.

ADVERTISEMENT
The statement drew loud applause from the hastily assembled crowd packed into a hot hotel ballroom in downtown Columbia. Strong performances in two debates leading up to the Palmetto primary were credited with spurring Gingrich's surge. 

But that was one of just a few pointed moments for the House Speaker, in a change of pace from recent stops on the campaign trail. Gingrich adopted a firebrand style as he clawed his way back to the top of the South Carolina polls, with pointed attacks aimed at his Republican opponents -- especially at presumptive favorite Mitt Romney. But Saturday night, he showered praise on his opponents, saying they represented the democratic spirit of the country.

Gingrich complimented Romney, whose second place finish has drawn into question the once assumed inevitability of his campaign, as "hard working" and "very successful."

"Gov. Romney, with whom I disagree on other issues, is nonetheless a good example of America," Gingrich said.

Gingrich also credited Rick Santorum's "courage" for sticking in the race when he was low in the polls and had little financial support. The former House Speaker went on to praise Ron Paul, who finished a disappointed fourth in the evening's contest.

"As a further example of how open our system is, you have Dr. Ron Paul, who has been right about the Federal Reserve for 25 years," Gingrich said.

The tone of the speech changed dramatically when Gingrich stopped talking about fellow Republicans.

Gingrich sharpest criticisms were for the "media elites" - to whom he referred multiple times throughout his address. Gingrich's success Saturday was partially built on a strong performance in Thursday's GOP debate, where he parlayed questions about his acrimonious second divorce into a strong denouncement of the news media.

"In the debates we had here … where people reacted so strongly, the American people feel like they've had elites for a half-century trying to change who we are," Gingrich said.

The former Speaker also railed against President Obama, accusing him of fostering "growing anti-religious bigotry" and Saul Alinsky-style "radicalism." He went on to challenge Obama, as he has frequently on the campaign trail, to a series of Lincoln Douglas style debates.

Gingrich then joked that Obama could use a teleprompter if he wanted - a subtle jab at the president, but also possibly Mitt Romney, who read from prepared remarks when delivering his remarks earlier in the evening.

But Gingrich was mostly - and notably - positive in his remarks, taking little time to gloat about his historic comeback victory. With trademark Gingrich confidence, he did concede that he does "think he will be the nominee."

Still, Gingrich's supporters and campaign staff were enthusiastic, noting that the Speaker's margin of victory in South Carolina would likely exceed that of Mitt Romney in New Hampshire, considered a lock for the former Massachusetts governor. Campaign staff said that they believed a "moneybomb" fundraiser timed to coincide with the win would help Gingrich stay competitive in Florida, where expensive and geographically distant media markets play to Romney's financial advantages.

Gingrich's South Carolina co-chair Billy Wilkins described the victory as monumental.

"Make no mistake about it - this was a landslide victory," Wilkins said. "This was the political version of a tsunami."

Bobby Harrell, Speaker of the South Carolina House of Representatives and a Gingrich surrogate, said that the vote solidified Gingrich's claim on the nomination.

"We have picked the nominee - South Carolina picks presidents," Harrell said. "We have selected a fighter who doesn't put up with anything from the press or Obama."