Craig Eisele on …..

January 21, 2012

Romney Sneaks away to Avoid Gingrich in South Carolina

Instead of going through with an in-person showdown with Newt Gingrich on the morning of the primary, Mitt Romney skipped out early.

Romney and Gingrich sent out schedules within minutes of each other Friday evening that had them here, at the same Tommy’s Country Ham House restaurant, at the same time for the morning of primary day — a scheduling fluke that Gingrich’s campaign gleefully embraced. Romney’s didn’t.

Romney showed up early, leaving before the dueling events were even supposed to start.

When Gingrich dropped by the crowded restaurant, a must-visit breakfast joint for presidential candidates, he made sure to point that out.

“Where’s Mitt?” Newt asked to cheers from the crowd.

“Putting his taxes together,” someone shouted from the back.

“I thought he would stay and we could have a little debate,” Gingrich said.

In an unusual twist, Gingrich’s campaign out-organized the Romney camp.

Romney climbed on top of a table to address the crowd as supporters shouted “Mic!” because he couldn’t be heard even a few feet away.

But the microphone and sound system that were set up at the front of the room didn’t belong to Romney’s campaign — they had been set up by the Gingrich campaign.

Romney’s campaign had a group of about 20 students in the parking lot, waving signs and chanting when they arrived. Christian Tarin, one of the students, said they were part of the Young Republican Club at Southern Virginia University, a predominately Mormon school.

For the Gingrich campaign, about 200 locals held signs and posters in the rain waiting for him to exit. The campaign distributed six-foot wide signs to line the parking lot behind television crews broadcasting live from the event.

The difference as they moved through the restaurant was also stark.

As Romney was trying to shake hands a woman spilled a glass of water, causing a big ruckus.

The press in the event swarmed Romney and made moving around the room virtually impossible. To get around, he hopped on top of a table and then jumped down. As he was climbing over, a woman passed out and had to be rushed out of the restaurant.

Still, Shane Franks of Greenville — who helped Romney leap over the table — said he was impressed.

“He’s more physically fit than I thought,” Franks said.

Franks stuck around to see Newt, but he had already voted Saturday morning for Romney. As a gay Republican, Franks said Romney is the only candidate who supports gay rights. But more important for him are his stances on fiscal issues.

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