This story has been updated.
At a non-partisan "Rally for Homeownership" Thursday in Columbia on the State House steps, Newt Gingrich extolled the personal and economic virtues of property ownership in America. But he steered clear of any fresh attacks on his political nemesis, Mitt Romney.
That may have partially been due to a new S.C. poll that shows Gingrich — once the state's frontrunner — closing the gap on Romney with little more than a week to go until the Jan. 21 primary.
It could also have been due to the fact that Gingrich reportedly got some oblique shots in against Romney and his leadership of Bain Capital at an event held just a couple hours earlier.
Or, it may have been largely due to the fact that Romney's state campaign chairman, S.C. State Treasurer Curtis Loftis, was seated just a few feet away from Gingrich.
Whatever the reason, Gingrich used the second of his two Midlands campaign stops Thursday to reiterate his well-worn economic plan which, he told an appreciative crowd, is at least partially hinged on protecting the American Dream of homeownership.
Gingrich, who grew up an Army brat in base housing, said he remembered the pride his mother felt when his father retired and his family bought their own home. On the flip side, he recounted how his wife, Callista, grew up stable in a small Wisconsin town and the pride of ownership her parents took in their long-time family home.
"I just want to say that those who live in high-rise apartment buildings, writing for fancy newspapers … don't understand that for most Americans the ability to buy a home, to have their own property and a sense of belonging, is one of the greatest achievements in life," he said.
"It makes them feel like they are good, solid citizens. It gives them a place to root their children, and their grandchildren, and have a better future," he added.
Because of that, Gingrich said he planned to sign a pledge that as president he would maintain the federal mortgage-interest deduction, which is a key issue for the housing industry. Further, he added, he would fight to ensure that financially responsible citizens have access to a "safe and stable mortgage system."
Thursday's event wasn't an official Gingrich rally, but there were plenty of Gingrich supporters among the few hundred that showed for the event — put on by a host of homebuilder and real-estate organizations.
Among those supporters was Pat and Ray Farkas, a retired couple from Murrells Inlet, who were visiting Columbia and happened serendipitously upon the rally.
"He's the man; he has all the right answers," said Ray Farkas. "He knows how to solve the problems we have. He just needs to stay on course [to win], and he's doing it. He's going to to be fine."
"I agree," said his wife, Pat. "I am an independent voter. I'm a registered Republican, but I've been known to vote for a Democrat. I just look at the candidate, and I think so many people need to do that and not follow the party line."
Ray said he was upset with the negative advertising from pro-Romney super- PACs that many believe cost Gingrich the Iowa caucus. He also doesn't want to see the race in South Carolina devolve into mudslinging, from either candidate, though he believes it has already started. "The ads here in South Carolina are terrible," he said.
That said, if Romney should prevail here and claim the nomination, any antipathy he feels against the former Massachusetts governor can be forgiven -- if only to defeat Barack Obama.
"We can't have another four years of what we have today," he said.
Nikki Trawick, president of the Northeast Republican Women, a Richland County-based organization, had been wavering until just recently between Rick Santorum and Gingrich. She now is solidly in the Gingrich camp.
"I still like them both, but I think that Speaker Gingrich is the person we need to go forward in the fall against Barack Obama," she said.
"I watched their speeches in New Hampshire and Iowa," she added. "But the one thing that I really liked is, it seemed like the day after New Hampshire, Newt Gingrich was on the ground here at 9 a.m., doing things and taking it to the street — trying to get out there and hustle. And we need somebody with that kind of mojo."