Charles Dharapak, Associated Press
GILBERT, S.C. — Working to fend off a surging Newt Gingrich in what's become an unexpectedly tight race in South Carolina, presidential candidate Mitt Romney said Friday he expects he will lose some state contests to Gingrich during a prolonged fight for the GOP nomination.
"I expect that Newt will win some primaries and contests and I expect I will as well," Romney said on the Laura Ingraham radio show a day before voting begins in the critical South Carolina primary. "I'm not expecting to win them all."
Romney didn't directly say he expects to lose in South Carolina, and in a separate appearance Friday described the contest as "neck-and-neck." But senior aides acknowledged they wouldn't be surprised if he lost the primary.
Romney's comments were his most blunt acknowledgement yet of the trouble his campaign faced amid a reality much changed from 10 days ago when he won the New Hampshire primary in a landslide. They also recognized the possibility that Gingrich could take a South Carolina victory on to other states and win again.
Romney's campaign appeared visibly rattled the day before voting began. His standing in polls had tumbled after a week of constant attack ads and self-made problems. Senior advisers and campaign hands were preparing for a long fight.
"He will win. It's a question of when," said Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, who campaigned with Romney on Friday.
Romney came to South Carolina after twin victories in Iowa and New Hampshire, only to see his Iowa victory thrown into question because of problems with the count. He then spent a week trying to answer questions about his personal wealth and when he will release his tax returns.
Romney tried to change the subject from his unreleased tax returns to the ethics investigation Gingrich faced 15 years ago.
Gingrich's House reprimand in 1997 presented an opportunity to talk about something else. When asked if Gingrich should release the Ethics Committee report that resulted in the first such action against a House speaker, Romney replied, "Of course he should."
"Nancy Pelosi has the full record of that ethics investigation," he said. "You know it's going to get out ahead of the general election."
In fact, the 1,280-page committee report on Gingrich is already public. Campaign officials said Romney was referring to other documents that Gingrich has referenced and that Pelosi has also mentioned.
"Given Speaker Gingrich's newfound interest in disclosure and transparency, and his concern about an 'October surprise,' he should authorize the release of the complete record of the ethics proceedings against him," Romney spokeswoman Gail Gitcho said.
Romney's campaign was calling South Carolina voters with a recording attacking Gingrich's ethics record and calling on him to release any documents related to the inquiry.
In December, Pelosi told Talking Points Memo that she had served on the committee that conducted the investigation and implied that more information about the investigation could come to light. At the time Gingrich said the House should retaliate against Pelosi if she released any additional information.
"We turned over 1 million pages of material," Gingrich said then. "We had a huge report."
Gingrich's campaign said Romney's criticism represented a "panic attack" on the part of his campaign.
Romney on Friday said again that he wouldn't release his tax returns until April, which would probably be after Republicans choose their nominee.
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