Reporting from Lexington, S.C. — Hustling for votes three days before the South Carolina primary, Republican front-runner Mitt Romney made an impromptu stop for pulled pork, baked beans and coleslaw before his third rally Wednesday, urging diners at each table in the crowded restaurant to support him at the polls Saturday.
Romney led his closest GOP rival by 10 points among likely Republican voters in a CNN/Time poll released Wednesday, but the survey showed former House Speaker Newt Gingrich gaining ground. That shift prompted Romney to criticize Gingrich by name for the first time since December on Wednesday, suggesting that he had exaggerated his role in creating jobs while working in the Reagan administration in the 1980s.
Romney set those criticisms aside during his stop at Hudson’s Smokehouse, where he took a quick peek at the smoker –- admitting to the owner that he’s not “a catfish man, or not a fish man so much” (he prefers pulled pork and pulled chicken) –- before touring the crowded dining room.
“I’d appreciate your vote on Saturday. Get out and vote,” the former Massachusetts governor told one man after apologizing for ruining his dinner as cameras and reporters swarmed around them.
A few tables away, 13-year-old Lauren Cunningham of Lexington told Romney she wanted to be president.
“Well, it’s a long road,” Romney said, crouching down beside her. “It’s a long road, but nothing wrong with dreaming about that and who knows what will happen. Could happen.”
As Romney signed autographs, Cunningham told reporters she was hoping to be the first female president: “I just thought it would be kind of cool,” she said.
Turning to the candidate, she asked if he had any advice on her future run. “Umm. I’ll give you advice after this is over,” he said chuckling. “I hope to do well.”