CHARLESTON, S.C .-- A day before the crucial GOP South Carolina presidential primary, Newt Gingrich is on a trajectory to give Mitt Romney a thumping -- but comic Stephen Colbert's rally with Herman Cain here was the biggest draw.
With the Republican field now down to four active candidates -- former Speaker Gingrich, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, former Sen. Rick Santorum and Rep. Ron Paul -- if the election is close -- think Iowa's 34-vote spread -- it may be because the ballot will also include candidates who are not running anymore: Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann, Jon Huntsman and Herman Cain.
The latest Gallup poll shows Romney's once 23-point lead dropping 10 points in a contest Gallup sees as having "unprecedented volatility. " Clemson University's Palmetto Poll has Gingrich surging at 32 percent to 26 percent for Romney.
The question will be if Gingrich -- coming off strong debate performances on Monday and Thursday, where he deflected questions about an "open marriage" by bashing the media -- has the ability here to leverage his breaks.
On Friday morning, Gingrich canceled an appearance at a Southern Republican Leadership Conference meeting here as few people showed up at the hall. After that, with wife Calista, they toured a children's hospital here -- a photo op with few voters -- capped off by Mrs. Gingrich reading from the children's book she wrote, Sweet Land of Liberty.
Former Rep. Bob Livingston--who served with Gingrich in the House -- and was here as a surrogate for his friend -- analyzed why Gingrich's campaign has had so many ups and downs.
"You can knock him down but he comes back. . . . He's a tough guy, he's Rocky Balboa, he's the Eveready Bunny, you're not going to knock him down. You're not going to wear him out," Livingston told reporters.
Romney has been campaigning in South Carolina with Gov. Nikki Haley and at a North Charleston event with a few hundred people -- more a photo op than a real get-out-the-vote rally -- Romney sang "Happy Birthday" to her. Said Haley, "All I want is President Romney for my birthday."
In the runup to the January, 2008 Democratic South Carolina primary, then Sen. Barack Obama accepted the endorsement of Sen. John Kerry at an outdoor rally at the College of Charleston on Jan. 10, 2008, drawing a crowd of about 4,500, a high mark for the school.
That record was broken on Friday when Colbert stumped for the Cain vote at a College of Charleston rally in the same yard where Obama once stood -- this time mocking the election system -- especially the campaign finance rules that allow massive corporate donations to shadowy groups -- by asking people to vote for Cain -- even though he dropped his presidential bid.
Colbert was raised in Charleston -- though Chicagoans lay a claim on him because he graduated Northwestern University in 1986 -- and drew more than 4,500, according to a school official.
"I want you to vote for Herman Cain because Herman Cain is me," said Colbert. " . . . He possesses the one thing I don't think I will ever have, a place on the ballot."
"Mr. Colbert could not get on the ballot, I could not get off the ballot, that's how this came about," said Cain. [The event was organized by Comedy Central, contacting the college last Tuesday.]
Cain told the crowd he was "not offended" by Colbert appropriating his ballot slot but he did not agree with the scheme.
Said Cain, "I don't want you to waste your vote."