Newt Gingrich poses for a cellphone photo with a woman attending his town… (Paul J. Richards / AFP/Getty…)
Reporting from Georgetown, S.C. — A day after saying he wouldn't back down on criticizing Mitt Romney's tenure at Bain Capital, Newt Gingrich visited a town allegedly affected by Bain, and did not mention Romney or Bain at all, instead talking about the importance of bringing manufacturing back to South Carolina.
In a town hall meeting at Land's End Restaurant in Georgetown, a town which Gingrich's "super PAC," Winning Our Future, used to criticize Bain for taking over a steel plant that then went bankrupt, Gingrich called on conservative voters to rally around him.
"Only by gathering up all the conservatives to support Newt Gingrich will we ensure that we will have a conservative to be the Republican nominee," he said. "If we split our vote three or four ways, we could end up with a moderate who I believe will have a very hard time defeating Obama."
Gingrich began his speech by calling for the modernization of the port in Georgetown, a port that saw its tonnage drop after the steel mill shut down. He ended his speech by pledging to come back to a newly widened harbor in Georgetown, and watch a boat sail to China with products made in the United States.
"If you have creativity and if you are prepared to find a way to things work instead of finding a way to stop things from working, it's amazing what you can get done," read the only quote in his speech that might have referred to Romney -– but also might not have.
But staying away from criticizing Romney may have worked in his favor in a state that seems to be sick of the attack ads that have saturated the airwaves over the past week. Voters in both Georgetown and Gaffney, the two towns highlighted in the Winning Our Future video attacking Romney, say the Bain events were too long ago to matter, and further, that they won't vote for anyone too focused on attacks.
"What I don't like is someone like Newt when they're going at it in their ads," said Kim Morris, a voter who attended the town hall but said she didn't think she'd vote for Gingrich. "We really don't like that. He needs to focus more on himself, not bash what someone else does."
In a question and answer session with media after his speech, Gingrich said that local and national media articles were highlighting the Bain issue, and that during his speech, he talked about what voters wanted to discuss. He added that several voters who approached him after the speech were bothered by Bain's history in Georgetown.
"I think there is a vivid awareness here of what happened to the steel mill," he said.
But many voters –- both here and in Gaffney -- say that Bain's activities were too long ago to remember, and furthermore, that sometimes businesses have to close.
In Gaffney, a town where Bain bought a photo album manufacturing plant in the 1980s, which then laid off 150 workers, there is now a Nestle factory and a Timkin plant, which makes ball bearings. Main Street, while not bustling, still has bars, restaurants, and shops, and many locals asked about Bain and the manufacturing company say they didn't even know one had been shut down there.
"Things like that happen in business," said Jamie Grindstaff, who owns a printing shop and bookstore in Gaffney. "I'm disappointed in the Republican candidates for bashing people who participate in capitalism."
Gaffney Mayor Henry Jolly said he only knew one person left in town who had been laid off by Holson Burnes, the company Bain purchased. But the town wasn't irreparably damaged by Bain, he said.
"You came to Gaffney, you saw, we're doing OK," he said.
The Bain rhetoric might have worked better in Georgetown than Gaffney, which is a more Democratic-leaning, African American city. But even voters at the Gingrich forum in Georgetown who support Gingrich say they're relieved he stayed away from negative ads.
"I think it's good he didn't mention it," said Paul Boelke, a retired GM worker who said that after hearing Gingrich speak, he was definitely a supporter. "I don't like any ads that attack anybody."
Gingrich also said in his remarks that if he won South Carolina, he was sure he'd win the nomination, but otherwise stayed close to the stump speech he's been bringing around the state. One voter asked why Gingrich wouldn't approve civil unions, which made members of the audience gasp with surprise.
"I believe marriage is between a man and a woman," Gingrich said, cutting off the questioner, and moving on to the next question.