COLUMBIA, South Caroline -- On Saturday, KHOU 11 News’ Kevin Reece was in Columbia South Carolina at the campaign rally for Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney. But in a corner of South Carolina that has had tornado warnings most of the morning, the storm here may belong to Newt Gingrich. Exit polling shows him taking a lead in South Carolina and 11 News’ informal poll through rural SC shows the same.
The drive form Charleston to Columbia Saturday morning took Reece through the central South Carolina town of Orangeburg – population roughly 90,000. It’s a town that dates back to the American Revolution, named after The Prince of Orange, the son-in-law of King George, II, and with its Civil War history proudly displayed in the town square with a towering monument to “The Confederate Dead.”
But on Saturday the biggest flurry of activity found was at Sheridan Elementary on the northwest side of town. The polling place for two predominantly Republican Orangeburg wards had a mostly elderly clientele casting their ballots in the South Carolina primary.
And one name came up more than most.
“Newt,” said Jay Pearson when asked who got his vote.
“Newt Gingrich,” said Mary Adden when asked who was first on her ballot.
Voters in Orangeburg, following the trend of the latest polls that show Gingrich likely to take the South Carolina primary win, said they voted for Gingrich for one of three reasons. Number one – Gingrich and his direct, angry response to CNN moderator John King’s first question in the Thursday night Charleston debate about claims by the former speaker’s wife that he asked her for an “open marriage.”
“He’s forceful,” said Adden. “And he gets what he wants across to every person. And I think we need that kind of person.”
Others said they voted for him because they felt he is a much stronger conservative than Mitt Romney and the best match against President Obama.
“Anybody but Obama,” said Joyce Rheney. “Most any of those that were up on stage the other night in the debate can do better than he’s doing up in Washington.”
“Well that’s a tough choice,” Pearson said of his choice between Gingrich and Romney. “It came down to who I thought would do the best against Obama.”
But even in Orangeburg, Newt Gingrich isn’t everybody’s man, certainly not Linda Blume’s.
“I think it will be so embarrassing if Newt Gingrich wins. I think it will make South Carolina look so terrible. “
I asked her why.
“Because I think he’s a buffoon,” she said.
South Carolina has picked the eventual republican nominee every presidential election since 1980.
Orangeburg is only one example of where the Palmetto state might be leaning. All indications are that most are leaning – as hard to the right as they can.
“I want a change in this country,” said Mary Adden. “And it begins right here in Orangeburg.”