Gingrich Campaigns In South Carolina

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is campaigning this week in South Carolina, which holds its primary on January 21. Gingrich has been surging in the polls recently, though he's drawn attacks from his Republican rivals over remarks on immigration at a debate last week. But many voters in South Carolina are not bothered by Gingirch's position on immigration.

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Newt Gingrich is campaigning in South Carolina this week. The former House speaker has topped several recent national polls, and Gingrich is trying to solidify his support in the state that holds the first primary in the South.

NPR's Kathy Lohr has our story.

KATHY LOHR, BYLINE: Gingrich spoke last night at a town hall at the College of Charleston, where he covered many of the same issues all GOP candidates are stressing: the ailing economy, and reducing the size of government. But Gingrich also talked about his position on immigration, which has drawn fire from his Republican rivals. He detailed his seven-point plan.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

NEWT GINGRICH: So part one is, control the border. Part two is, establish English as the official language of government.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

LOHR: Immigration is an important issue in South Carolina, which passed a strict law to crack down on illegal immigrants. It requires that police check the status of people they stop if they suspect they're in the country illegally. In a debate last week, Gingrich called for a more humane approach to dealing with those who've been in the U.S. for many years, and he didn't back away from that in Charleston.

GINGRICH: Do you really think the American people are going to send police in, to take that person away from their family? I don't.

LOHR: Among those in the audience, Debbie Harwell, who has her own public relations firm in Myrtle Beach.

DEBBIE HARWELL: I think it's the best immigration explanation that I've had yet.

LOHR: Now that she's heard Gingrich, Harwell says she's firmly behind him.

HARWELL: Before, honestly, I thought maybe some of Newt's baggage - maybe would keep me from voting for him. But now I realize, we're in such trouble, we've got to have somebody that's smart enough, somebody that's quick enough, somebody with enough experience to get this country out of trouble right now, or we will be sliding down the tubes.

LOHR: Richard Corbin says he doesn't want a Washington insider or a career politician. But he says he's a loyal Republican.

RICHARD CORBIN: Right now, I prefer a non-politician; somebody that's not influenced by political networks.

LOHR: So does that mean that you really wouldn't want to see Mr. Gingrich in?

RICHARD CORBIN: Well, bottom line, yes. But as it's playing out, it looks like I'm not going to have a lot of choice. I'll support whoever the voters put up.

LOHR: His wife, Nancy Corbin, says she's reconsidering the former congressman from Georgia but still has questions about his past, including at least $1.6 million Gingrich received as a consultant for the mortgage giant Freddie Mac.

NANCY CORBIN: But I just want to be sure on things like global warming, on the Fannie Mae-Freddie Mac thing, that we get a true answer. But I like the way he addresses things forthright and straightforward, and doesn't take any baloney from anybody. I like that.

LOHR: Keith Jester, a retired manager at DuPont for more than 40 years, agrees and says after seeing many other GOP hopefuls fumble, Gingrich makes sense.

KEITH JESTER: And I don't want to send another person to Washington - nothing against Herman Cain - but someone that doesn't know the political system, and gets run over by the political people in Washington that's been there forever.

LOHR: So while Mitt Romney and the Democrats take aim at each other, the former House speaker told a Charleston radio station that while he's not perfect, he's the conservative alternative.

GINGRICH: I don't claim to be the perfect candidate. I just claim to be a lot more conservative than Mitt Romney, and a lot more electable than anybody else.

LOHR: Gingrich also met with church leaders, and he's holding a number of fundraisers and more town hall meetings in South Carolina over the next couple of days. He wants to strengthen his recent lead in the polls, and hopes to show he's more than the latest anti-Romney.

Kathy Lohr, NPR News, Charleston, South Carolina.

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