Mitt Romney, whose second-place finish in South Carolina’s Republican primary on Saturday handed him his second defeat in three state contests, said the GOP could not take back the White House relying on a candidate who had waged a “frontal assault” on free enterprise – a square shot at primary winner Newt Gingrich.
Romney, who was trailing Newt Gingrich on Saturday night, used his concession speech to strike back at Gingrich’s attacks for Romney’s tenure at Bain Capital and reluctance to release his tax returns, questioning whether such criticism disqualified Gingrich for the party nomination.
“Our party cannot be led to victory by someone who also has never run a business, and never run a state,” Romney said. “We cannot defeat [Obama] with a candidate who has joined in that very assault on free enterprise.”
If his rivals joined Democratic attacks, Romney said, “They’re not going to be fit to be our nominee.”
He added: “The Republican Party doesn’t demonize prosperity; we celebrate success in our party.”
The former Massachusetts governor also deployed his standard criticism of President Obama, saying the next primary state, Florida, had suffered under Obama’s policies.
“We’re now three contests into a long primary season,” Romney said near the top of his concession speech. “We’ve still got a long way to go, and a lot of work to do. And tomorrow we’re going to move onto Florida.”
Romney heads into Florida with a muscular head start. In addition to residual support from 2008, the pro-Romney super PAC Restore Our Future spent about $300,000 on mailings and $1.5 million on television in the Sunshine State over the past week, according to Federal Election Commission filings. But Gingrich – and other candidates this cycle, notably Rick Santorum – have flouted the conventional wisdom, and Gingrich indicated Saturday both that he planned to rebut Florida ads criticizing him with spots of his own, and that he was determined to move ahead with his “campaign of ideas” paradigm.
Gingrich piled up heavy margins over Romney in the Piedmont and PeeDee areas of South Carolina, while Romney tied him in the Midlands and edged him in the Low Country, according to network exit polls. Gingrich also swept him across all voters in all income levels save the uncapped “$200,000 or more” division.
“You should hear ’em when we win,” Romney said wryly as he opened his speech Saturday night. “This race is getting to be even more interesting.”