Gingrich, Santorum court S.C. tea party

The StateJanuary 16, 2012 

Both Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum spent part of Monday touting themselves as the true conservative in the race and urging S.C. Tea Party members to back them before it’s too late and frontrunner Mitt Romney runs away with the S.C. primary.

The state’s tea party groups are divided among several candidate, limiting their ability to influence the result of Saturday’s S.C. primary.

“My challenge to you is to look at the records,” Santorum told several hundred Tea Party members who gathered in Myrtle Beach for the inaugural S.C. Tea Party Convention.

Santorum, a former Pennsylvania senator, defended his record of pushing for “earmarks” -- money in the federal budget pegged for specific projects. It’s a topic on which Gingrich has sharply criticized Santorum.

“Earmarks are less than one percent of the budget, and there are earmarks that I fought for that you would have fought for,” Santorum said. He listed as examples the military’s predator drone and an emerging technology that would regenerate body parts for wounded soldiers.

Meanwhile, Gingrich encouraged Tea Party members to unite behind him because he is the only one who can defeat President Barack Obama in November. He characterized the matchup as one between “a paycheck president vs. a food stamps president.”

Kris and Joe Thompson, officers in the S.C. District 5 Patriots, a Tea Party organization, said they’re sold on Gingrich.

“It’s no secret people are torn. There’s no Ronald Reagan in this race,” Kris Thompson said who is backing Gingrich. “So I’m weighing my options and looking for the guy who can mop the debate floor with Obama. I don’t how anyone could stump Newt.”

Kris Thompson added that Gingrich has stumbled in his personal life including extramarital affairs.

“But now, he’s a grandpa. You can’t pull anything out of a hat that isn’t old news on him,” she said.

Texas Rep. Ron Paul was also scheduled to speak at the event. But scheduling problems prevented him from attending, said a convention organizer.

Read more South Carolina coverage at thestate.com

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