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Bruce Smith, Associated Press
Republican presidential candidate, former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich answers questions at a town hall meeting in North Charleston, S.C., on Tuesday, July 12, 2011. Gingrich, seeking the GOP presidential nomination, was on a two-day campaign swing through South Carolina.

NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. — Congressional Republicans should not relent in the battle with President Barack Obama over raising the federal debt ceiling, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said during a presidential campaign swing through South Carolina on Tuesday.

When he was speaker, the Republicans' fight over the budget with President Bill Clinton closed down the government in 1995 and 1996.

"In that process the American people looked up and said they wanted a smaller government," Gingrich said.

"What Republicans shouldn't do is try to back down from this fight," Gingrich said to loud applause from about 150 people attending a town hall meeting organized by the Charleston Tea Party. South Carolina is holding the South's first GOP primary.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell offered on Tuesday to hand the president powers to avert the first-ever government default threatened for Aug. 2. But Gingrich said he doesn't know what McConnell was trying to accomplish.

"The Washington media will tell you we made a huge mistake closing the federal government in 1995 and 1996," he said. "I will tell you as one of the people who did it — baloney."

He said Republicans in Congress during his time showed the American people they were serious enough about balancing the budget they were willing to let the government close.

"I would say to the Republicans in Washington today that you have to have the courage to stand for what you believe in. You have to trust that the American people are smarter than the elite media thinks they are and the political consultants think they are. You have to be able to go nose-to-nose with the president to win the argument."

"When you do, the country will award you with a dozen more seats in the Senate and 30 or 40 more House seats and a Republican president and we will have this country back on the road to prosperity," Gingrich said.

It was Gingrich's second visit to South Carolina since announcing he would seek the GOP presidential nomination.

On Wednesday, he speaks to executives from the South Carolina's electric cooperatives during a meeting in Charleston.