GOP field slugging it out in SC

The South Carolina primary has distinguished itself in the past by bringing out the worst in campaign tactics. So it is no surprise that this week, some Republican contenders accused supporters of Rick Santorum of rigging a consensus vote by evangelical leaders. No surprise that Newt Gingrich misstated Mitt Romney’s role in the historic 2003 same-sex marriage decision in Massachusetts. And no surprise that somebody was distributing a flyer outside last Saturday’s debate in Charleston that portrayed Romney as a largely pro-gay candidate.

But there have been some surprises in the South Carolina campaign, including who was behind that flyer and the withdrawal of the field’s most progressive candidate, Jon Huntsman.

Huntsman, the only major Republican presidential hopeful who expressed support for civil unions (though not same-sex marriage), surprised some on Monday when he withdrew from the race just six days after touting his third place showing in the New Hampshire primary. But polls were indicating he’d be back at the bottom of the heap in the South Carolina and Florida this month. The Wall Street Journal blamed Huntsman’s failure to catch on with most Republicans on “some of his policy positions, such as his support for civil unions for gay couples….” In announcing his departure from the campaign, Huntsman endorsed Romney.

While that might have been a boost of sorts for Romney, there were many barbs, too. One such barb was an independent political action committee that describes itself as “progressive” distributing a flyer highlighting pro-gay remarks by Romney by juxtaposing them next to similar comments from well-known gays, such as Barney Frank, Harvey Milk, and Audre Lorde.

The PAC, American Bridge to the 21st Century, describes itself as “Democratic-allied” and distributed the flyers on car windshields outside Saturday’s Fox News debate in Charleston. ABC News reported the group has indicated it plans to continue distributing the flyers this week, prior to the Saturday, January 21 primary.

Chris Harris, a spokesman for the group, said the flyer is an effort “to highlight the fact that Mr. Romney has no core and will do or say anything to get elected.” Asked whether the group was concerned Romney might try to make use of his past pro-gay statements to woo LGBT voters in the general election, Harris said no.

“Romney is as conservative on gay rights issues as George W. Bush was in 2004,” said Harris. “We’d love it [if] Romney would flip back to his pre-flop flip after the primary, but we don’t see that happening.”

For his part, Romney, during Saturday’s debate, repeated his defense on the charge that he has repeatedly flip-flopped on some issues, such as civil rights for gays. Romney said he has always been opposed to discrimination against gays and has always been against marriage for same-sex couples.

But former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who makes frequent reference to himself as a historian, stuck another barb against Romney that was patently void of facts. Gingrich, campaigning in Florida, claimed that Romney appointed the judges who delivered the decision that led to same-sex couples obtaining marriage licenses in Massachusetts.

In fact, Romney did not appoint a single state supreme court justice who participated in the famous Goodridge v. Commonwealth case. Six of the seven justices were Republican appointees, but each was appointed by Republican governors William Weld and Paul Cellucci. The seventh justice, who provided the winning margin in the 4 to 3 decision, was appointed by Democratic Governor Michael Dukakis.

Rick Santorum got in his barbs, too. Although he continues to play down his fierce opposition to civil rights for gays, he now does so using code words.  The new code word is “social issues.” In a new 30-second ad that began airing in South Carolina Monday, Santorum notes similarities between Romney and President Obama, claiming that Romney said he was “more liberal than Ted Kennedy on social issues.” The claim is apparently based on a very loose translation of comments Romney made in 1994, in an interview with the Boston gay newspaper Bay Windows. In that interview, Romney, who was running against incumbent Ted Kennedy for the Senate, argued that, because he is a “moderate,” his voice would have greater credibility in Congress on gay civil rights issues than the voice of the “extremist” Kennedy. The newspaper itself interpreted that remark as, “Romney said one reason why he is a better candidate for Senate than opponent Sen. Edward Kennedy is because his voice would carry more weight on lesbian and gay issues than Kennedy’s.”

Santorum had to do his own damage control this week, for what may turn out to be a self-inflicted injury to his credibility. Just days after Family Research Council President Tony Perkins told reporters that 150 evangelical leaders had formed a “clear majority” behind Santorum, news emerged that many of the people attending the “vote” now believe it was rigged for Santorum. The January 14 meeting in Houston, and Perkins’ subsequent statement, received considerable media attention. But according to a report on Monday from the Washington Times, a conservative newspaper in Washington, D.C., Santorum supporters organized the closed-door event and Santorum was declared the consensus candidate after a third ballot taken “after many people had left to catch flights back home….”

The most recent polls in South Carolina suggests Santorum got little to no bump after the news that the evangelical gathering was urging conservatives to unite behind him. A Rasmussen poll on January 12 showed him with 16 percent, and a Rasmussen poll on January 16 showed him with 16 percent.

Romney leads in four different polls with between 28 percent and 33 percent. Gingrich appears to be heading for a second-place finish with between 21 percent and 25 percent. Santorum’s numbers put him in contention with U.S. Rep. Ron Paul for third place. And Texas Governor Rick Perry is set to finish last in single digits.

One Response to GOP field slugging it out in SC

  1. Ron B says:

    It is rather sad that the republican party has sunk to the lows of the tea baggers and their agenda of hate. The GOP used to be respected but now they are working to destroy everything they used to stand for just to get the black guy out of the white house,. That hatred includes hurting america just to try and make Obama look bad. They are offering no answers just the desperate need to get the presidency back into the hands of a whitre man….

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