Smaller Government - Lower Taxes - Personal Responsibility
South Carolina was living up to its reputation for hosting one of the most bruising presidential primary contests, as polls opened Saturday amid a fresh round of name-calling, mysterious fake news reports and attack ads.
Referring to polls that show him creeping ahead in the state, Gingrich said "conservatives have come home."
"Don't you sort of admire the arrogance and dishonesty of the Romney campaign?" Gingrich said. "They can't release their tax records. They're hiding. He can't even answer coherently (at) a debate. ... Until he files his tax returns, I'm not going to take anything he says seriously about being open."
While speaker, Gingrich was fined $300,000 for ethics violations, though he was cleared of many allegations. Though Gingrich said the ethics information is "out in the open" and has been for years, Romney's campaign suggested he should release more so voters can be confident there's no "October surprise" -- in other words, a cache of information that could be used against him by President Obama in a general election.
Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, acknowledged Friday that the race had tightened considerably. He said he's optimistic, but was not predicting victory.
Romney's fortunes have taken a sharp turn over the past week. He initially headed into South Carolina with a win in Iowa and New Hampshire under his belt, listening to political pundits talk about how he might wrap up the nomination in South Carolina.
Then the Iowa GOP announced that Rick Santorum, and not Romney, had actually won the Iowa caucuses -- party officials declared Santorum the winner late Friday night after giving a qualified announcement earlier in the week. Rick Perry also dropped out on Thursday, endorsing Gingrich.
And while Gingrich has deflected questions about scandalous claims made by his second wife, Romney has struggled to explain why he won't release his tax returns in the near future.
If Gingrich wins South Carolina, that means a different candidate will have won each of the first three primary contests -- making it hard for any of them to claim frontrunner status.
Both Romney and Gingrich are expected to attend the same late-morning campaign event on Saturday, though the campaigns did not plan it that way.
Meanwhile, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul appear to be fighting for third place in the state.
Santorum, on Fox News, disputed Gingrich's description of himself as a "Reagan conservative."
He criticized Gingrich for his past support of an individual mandate -- the requirement to buy health insurance that is at the heart of the federal health care overhaul -- and of the financial industry bailout.
Santorum argued that neither Romney nor Gingrich is what the GOP needs in a nominee.
"Mitt Romney is a moderate, someone who is timid in his tax plan, timid in his approach to cleaning up Washington and reducing the budget deficit," he said. "And Newt Gingrich is, you know, unpredictable."
"We don't need either of those things," Santorum said. He added, in reference to his trademark attire, "We need ... the guy with the sweater vest that everybody trusts."
Meanwhile, fraudulent emails were circulating the day before the primary claiming Gingrich urged his ex-wife to have an abortion -- one was a fake news report, another a fake response from the Gingrich campaign. Gingrich decried the messages, though no one has taken responsibility and it is being investigated.