Rotary club names amputee 1st vet of the month

Air Force Tech. Sgt. Michael Williams was honored Tuesday by the Rotary Club of Charleston. The explosive ordinance disposal technician lost part of his left leg in Afghanistan.

Wade Spees

Well, you can't say these guys don't know their audience.

The four remaining candidates in "Survivor: GOP Primary" threw so much red meat into the crowd Thursday during the debate at the North Charleston Coliseum, it's a wonder the "Dogs Against Romney" protesters outside didn't break down the door.

These candidates want to cut social welfare, they want to strengthen the military, and they want the tax rate as close to zero as possible.

Those were shameless last-minute plays to win votes Saturday, but it's not all that clear who's going to win. What voters really want is one candidate with a little bit of all these guys.

But it's clear from the focus of most attacks on stage that the other candidates have internal polling telling them to worry about Newt Gingrich's latest surge. As they should.

Gingrich had the audience in the palm of his hand from the beginning. He began by feigning outrage, playing professional victim over an ABC News report from his second wife that he had asked for an open marriage. Gingrich blamed the media, of course.

Big applause. Modest denial.

Gingrich got his momentum rolling in Myrtle Beach on Monday, with some thinly veiled race baiting. He said more people have been added to the welfare rolls under Barack Obama than any other president.

It was a pretty clear implication, even though that statement ignores the fact that Washington wrecked the economy -- forcing more people into welfare.

But the details don't matter in primary politics.

The other candidates know this, and did their best to gang up on Gingrich. Rick Santorum, who is fighting for the same social conservative vote, played the Newt-is-crazy card, warning people that in a general election, Republicans would have to hold their breath awaiting "worrisome moments."

"I don't want to have to worry about what he's going to say next," Santorum said.

Nice blow, but it seemed to roll off Gingrich.

Poor Ron Paul couldn't turn the debate to his big issue -- spending. Which is funny because the other guys threw out ideas for government programs like a bunch of Democrats. And the crowd didn't seem to notice.

Romney is playing these last days like a conservative college football coach. He played the states' rights card when the others hit him on "Romneycare," and tried to dismiss Gingrich's attempt to raise the fact that Romney isn't truly pro-life.

Romney was booed for hemming and hawing about releasing his tax returns, but scored a few points by declaring, in true Republican fashion, "I don't apologize for being successful."

It's probably too little to keep him afloat. There's blood in the water, and Romney's numbers are sinking. Santorum conveniently got in the fact that he actually won Iowa in the first minute of the debate.

But Santorum was far too nice, too respectful to win here. South Carolina's GOP primary voters like fighters, and it is beginning to look like Gingrich is their kind of guy. In his closing statement, Gingrich scored a blow that is likely to resonate with voters going to the polls Saturday.

"It is important that we defeat Barack Obama," Gingrich said. "This is the most dangerous president of our lifetime."

Big applause. And that kind of over-the-top rhetoric is probably going to reap big results.

South Carolina could be the start of the presidential primary, not the end.