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Newt Gingrich Suggests Rick Santorum And Rick Perry Should Drop Out

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Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich at the debate in South Carolina Monday.
Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich at the debate in South Carolina Monday.

FLORENCE, S.C. -- Newt Gingrich said Tuesday that he is the only Republican candidate capable of beating out Mitt Romney for the party's nomination, and suggested that the other candidates drop out so conservatives can unite behind him.

"If we win on Saturday, I think I will be the nominee," Gingrich said during a town hall meeting with voters here. "I'm the only conservative who realistically has a chance to be the nominee."

"So any vote for [Rick] Santorum or [Rick] Perry, in effect, is a vote to allow Romney to become the nominee, because we've got to bring conservatives together in order to stop him," Gingrich said.

The GOP's conservative base is currently split largely between Gingrich, the former House Speaker from Georgia, and Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator. Texas Gov. Perry is lagging but still receiving some support from the same pool of voters.

Gingrich's comments were driven by a recognition that with only a few days to go before the Palmetto State votes in its primary Saturday, a conservative splintering will likely allow Romney to win, which would make him very hard to beat from that point on.

"The challenge to me is to convince conservatives to come home and have a single candidate on Saturday, and I'm going to work very hard over the next four days to do that," Gingrich said.

Talking to reporters after the town hall meeting ended, Gingrich made a more detailed case for why he, and not Santorum, is the better conservative alternative to Romney, the former Massachusetts governor.

"Rick is a very good friend of mine and he's a nice man," Gingrich said. "He lost his state for reelection by the largest margin in the history of Pennylvania. There is no evidence that he could put together a national majority."

"I helped Reagan in '80, I helped Reagan in '84. I helped in '88 when Bush was down 19 points in May and we won by 6 in November ... I helped design the '94 campaign which had the largest one-party increase in an off year in American history."

"You could make a pretty good case I actually know how to design a national campaign," Gingrich said. "I don't think Santorum can win. It's not because he's not a nice guy, but he doesn't have any of the knowledge of how to do something like this."

A reporter asked Gingrich if Santorum should drop out. Gingrich did not explicitly say that he should, but suggested that that would be the best choice for the good of the "conservative movement."

"I'm respectful that Rick has every right to run as long as he feels that's what he should do," Gingrich said. "But from the standpoint of the conservative movement, consolidating into a Gingrich candidacy would in fact virtually guarantee victory on Saturday, and I'd be delighted if either Perry or Santorum would do that. They have to make that decision."

UPDATE: 5:10 p.m. --

LEXINGTON, S.C. -- Rick Santorum decried Newt Gingrich Tuesday afternoon for having the "arrogance" to call on him and Rick Perry to drop out of the Republican primary before South Carolina's primary vote this Saturday.

"It's an enormous amount of hubris for someone who lost their first two races, who thinks enough of themselves –- because a couple of polls have him at this moment in time ahead of me –- that everybody should step aside and let him, who hasn't defeated me in two of the elections so far, to let him have a wide berth," said Santorum, a former Pennsylvania senator.

Santorum came in a close second in Iowa, and possibly first, depending on a certification of the vote. But in New Hampshire, Santorum came at in under 100 votes behind Gingrich, finishing fifth.

The latest poll of South Carolina voters Tuesday, by Monmouth University, showed former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney at 33 percent, Gingrich at 22 percent, and Santorum at 14 percent.

Gingrich's suggestion that Santorum and Perry, the governor of Texas, should get behind his candidacy reflects the urgency that Gingrich feels about preventing Romney from winning the Palmetto state Saturday after his victories in Iowa and New Hampshire.

"We've got to bring conservatives together in order to stop him," Gingrich said at a town hall in Florence.

But Santorum said Gingrich's comments earlier in the day here in the state represented a "character issue."

"I wouldn't be so arrogant as to suggest that anybody gets out of this race," Santorum said.

He described Gingrich as erratic, saying he has been "for the business community one day and railing against it the next day" and "for global warming one day and railing against it the next day."

"We need someone who has that stability, someone who has that sense of understanding and humility, that can be a leader of our country," Santorum said.

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