Romney says he 'probably' paid only a 15 percent tax rate; Gingrich demands full story

By By David Lightman

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 17 2012 12:00 a.m. MST

The candidates will debate again Thursday in Charleston.

A Romney win Saturday in South Carolina would all but guarantee that he'll win the GOP presidential nomination after his skin-tight Iowa caucus victory and big New Hampshire primary triumph. But should any of his four remaining challengers defeat the former Massachusetts governor, they would be instantly anointed as the prime conservative alternative to him.

Gingrich urged voters to reject his chief rivals for this state's sizable conservative vote: Perry and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum.

"A vote for Santorum or Perry is a vote for Romney to be the nominee," Gingrich said. He later told reporters that "there's no evidence he (Santorum) can put together a national majority."

Gingrich masterminded the 1994 congressional campaign, when Republicans regained control of the House of Representatives for the first time in 40 years. Santorum was crushed in his 2006 Senate re-election bid in Pennsylvania.

"Santorum is a nice guy, but he doesn't have any of the knowledge of how to do any of this," Gingrich said.

Gingrich said he understood why his rivals would not leave the race, though. "I'm very aware that in June or July, everybody said I should drop out of the race," he said, recalling a time when his campaign was in turmoil. "The guy who was dead is still here."

Gingrich was in a joking mood as he spoke to a standing-room-only crowd of about 300 at a downtown Florence art gallery. Someone asked about the prospect of the vice presidency. "I can't imagine a presidential candidate who'd want to have me," Gingrich said.

Gingrich spent most of Tuesday blasting Obama, saying, "I want to be the paycheck president, not the food stamp president." Gingrich charged Monday that "more people have been put on food stamps" by Obama than any other president.

At the White House, press secretary Jay Carney, who had largely refrained from getting involved in campaign skirmishes, branded that claim "crazy." The worst recession since the 1930s resulted in a "dramatic increase" in people needing assistance, he said.

Santorum, who plans a full day of upstate campaigning on Wednesday, denounced as "dirty politics" robo-calls from Romney supporters. The calls reminded people that Santorum backed Romney for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination.

In Columbia, Texas Rep. Ron Paul got the support of state Sens. Lee Bright and Kevin Bryant of Spartanburg, and Danny Verdin of Greenville. They all represent parts of the highly conservative upstate region.

Paul campaigned in Spartanburg, where an audience member asked if he would run as an independent if he doesn't win the GOP nomination.

"The question is premature," he answered. "We want to wait until Saturday _ not to see how I do, but to see how we all do."

But, Paul added, "It's not likely. I don't want to give anybody the satisfaction that I've conceded the race. Right now, we're thinking about Saturday."

(Lesley Clark and Kevin G. Hall of the Washington bureau and Tim Funk of the Charlotte Observer contributed.)

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