NOVEMBER 28, 2011, 11:52 AM
By JEFF ZELENY
Newt Gingrich, who not long ago was urging his fellow Republican candidates to avoid tearing one another apart in pursuit of the party’s presidential nomination, took a new approach on Monday by explicitly declaring: “I don’t claim to be the perfect candidate; I just claim to be a lot more conservative than Mitt Romney.”
With his candidacy on the rise, Mr. Gingrich opened a three-day campaign visit to South Carolina and warned Republicans to be suspicious of candidates who “adopt radically different positions.” It was a fresh glimpse into the sharpening tenor of the nominating fight as the first round of voting begins in five weeks.
“We think there has to be a solid conservative alternative to Mitt Romney,” Mr. Gingrich told WSC Radio in Charleston, S.C. “I’m the one candidate who can bring together national security conservatives, and economic conservatives, and social conservatives in order to make sure we have a conservative nominee.”
He added, “I wouldn’t lie to the American people. I wouldn’t switch my positions for political reasons. It’s perfectly reasonable to change your position if facts change. If you see new things you didn’t see – everybody’s done that, Ronald Reagan did that. It’s wrong to go around to adopt radically different positions based on your need of any one election, then people will have to ask themselves, ‘What will you tell me next time?’”
Mr. Gingrich seemed to be making a not-so-veiled reference to how Mr. Romney’s positions on abortion, gay rights and other issues have evolved over the years. He said that he believes he and Mr. Romney “can have a very serious race” in the weeks ahead.
The comments from a radio interview on “Charleston’s Morning News” were among the sharpest words that Mr. Gingrich has used yet to describe Mr. Romney. Mr. Gingrich’s campaign swing through South Carolina comes a day after he received an endorsement from The Union Leader, the largest newspaper in New Hampshire, in an editorial that said Mr. Gingrich was not a perfect candidate.
“I think that’s right,” Mr. Gingrich said. “I think anybody who is honest about it knows that no person except Christ has ever been perfect.
“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.”