All or nothing: Gingrich's 'Armageddon' strategy for South Carolina

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich knows the stakes are high as he campaigns on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina.

Story highlights

  • South Carolina primary could be do or die for Newt Gingrich
  • The super PAC that supports Gingrich has set aside $3.4 million for ads in the state
  • Gingrich thinks the state will be the "Armageddon" of political campaigns
At his campaign events, Newt Gingrich -- the veteran politician who now sees himself as an unlikely political underdog -- blasts the theme song from the 1984 film "The Karate Kid."
"Try to believe, though the going gets rough, that you gotta hang tough to make it..." goes the opening stanza from "You're the Best." "Fight 'til the end, cause your life will depend, on the strength that you have inside you."
Days before the showdown in the South Carolina, Gingrich is locked in a close race with front-runner Mitt Romney in the most recent statewide poll. He has, in the first two contest states, been beaten down by Romney and his allies but is hoping the South Carolina primary on Saturday won't be the third and final act of his presidential run.
The stakes couldn't be higher. Just this weekend, two conservative politicians in South Carolina -- Sen. Lindsey Graham and U.S. Rep. Tim Scott -- predicted that if Romney wins the state's primary, he will have effectively sewn up the GOP nomination.
So Gingrich is readying every political weapon in his campaign arsenal -- TV ads, rallies, events, surrogates -- and is now more determined than ever to take down the Republican front-runner.
Gingrich and the super PAC that supports him are unleashing a barrage of campaign ads aimed to combat the looming political apocalypse that he sees just over the horizon in the Palmetto State.
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"This is going to be Armageddon. They are going to come in here with everything they've got, every surrogate, every ad, every negative attack," Gingrich said Wednesday on CNN's "Piers Morgan Tonight."
"At the same time we'll be drawing a sharp contrast between a Georgia Reagan conservative and a Massachusetts moderate who's pro-gun control, pro-choice, pro-tax increase, pro-liberal judge, and the voters of South Carolina will have to look and decide."
With $3.4 million set aside for ads in South Carolina -- more than 10 times what is seen as normal to blanket the state's media for a week -- the pro-Gingrich super PAC "Winning Our Future" has already launched a salvo of ads aimed squarely at Romney.
But in one such ad and minimovie, which targets Romney's role as head of the private equity firm Bain Capital, Gingrich says the group has gone too far.
"I am calling for the Winning Our Future super PAC supporting me to either edit its 'King of Bain' advertisement and movie to remove its inaccuracies, or to pull it off the air and off the internet entirely," the candidate said in a statement Friday.
At first, the former congressman said he didn't want to go negative (a statement many of his critics simply didn't believe). But his initial positive strategy just didn't hold up against a barrage of negative ads launched just as the Iowa caucuses were about to commence this month.
Then, after coming in a weak fourth in Iowa, he pivoted to New Hampshire with a new game plan to draw, as he put it, "sharper contrasts" with the former Massachusetts governor and ward off a Romney trifecta with a decisive victory in South Carolina.
But it didn't seem to help. He finished at the back of the pack in New Hampshire on Tuesday night, getting just 10% of the vote.
So he limped into the Palmetto State early Wednesday, hoping to reignite the spark launched his surge late last year. And the ads, appearances and attacks may just be working. The latest American Research Group poll of likely South Carolina Republican primary voters indicates a tight race for first place with Romney at 29% and Gingrich in a close second at 25%.
Now, with his latest line of attacks, the more Gingrich goes after Romney, the more he finds himself in hot water within his own party. After his questions about Romney's Bain ties and job losses, Gingrich was criticized by everyone from the Rush Limbaugh to The Wall Street Journal for what was seen as a frontal assault on capitalism. But by tweaking the Republican establishment, he now appears precisely where he wants to be.
"If you speak out, every effort is made to distort, confuse what you're saying because what you're saying may be so frightening to the establishment," Gingrich said Wednesday in Rock Hill. "And I'll let you decide whether this is where you want America to go and whether you're willing to help in the next 10 days to get there."
At a presidential forum in the Upstate town of Duncan, Gingrich warned the people in the audience the danger of not coalescing around one conservative candidate.
"If we end up splitting the conservative vote, we're going to stumble into nominating somebody that 95% of the people in this room are going to be very uncomfortable with," he said Friday evening.
So Gingrich has his work cut out for him. He must continue to hammer at Romney while not alienating the conservatives he needs to stay alive for at least one more contest, which is the Florida primary 10 days later.
And in doing so, he'll need to take those words from "Karate Kid" to heart -- "Fight 'til you drop, never stop" -- talking about the future while acting like there is no tomorrow.