Columbia, South Carolina (CNN) - Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich is building the largest campaign operation to date in South Carolina, hoping to seize conservative tea party support that could help keep his candidacy alive.
After picking up a little steam - and cash - with a number of strong debate performances, the former House Speaker is reviving operations with a nine person-strong staff, the campaign announced on Monday.
Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann and Texas Gov. Rick Perry have the second largest footprint with seven staffers each. Just last week, Bachmann brought on five people, including political strategist Wesley Donehue to lead state strategy and communications and assist with new media.
Businessman Herman Cain has four paid staffers in the state; former ambassador and Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman's campaign recently reduced its headcount to three people; former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has the smallest staff with two people on payroll.
Gingrich's Monday announcement includes two staffers who recently relocated to South Carolina: Policy Director Vince Haley and Coalitions Director Adam Waldeck, who CNN reported last month is now serving as state director.
Gingrich will attend the grand opening of his campaign headquarters in Greenville on Saturday.
Ruth Sherlock and Leslie Gaines, managing partners of Sherlock and Gaines Consulting Group based in Greenville, will serve as Gingrich deputy state directors.
Gaines served "a short time" as a fundraising consultant for Mitt Romney's 2008 presidential run before stepping back to work on state races. She said her decision to support Gingrich is not a slight to Romney's ability to lead, but more about the makeup of the GOP field.
"In 2008 Mitt was the conservative choice to McCain," Gaines said. "I think Newt is our conservative choice this time around."
Gingrich also nabbed Huntsman's only field director, DeLinda Ridings, who will serve in the same capacity for the Midlands region.
Ridings, spotted by CNN at a Myrtle Beach tea party event with Gingrich on Oct. 25, said she was "let go" by the Huntsman campaign on Friday.
Huntsman State Director Joel Sawyer said Riding’s position was eliminated as "part of our campaign's continued restructuring and refocusing of our resources."
Other Gingrich regional directors include new state Rep. Joshua Putnam to lead the Upstate; Myrtle Beach tea party leader Gerri McDaniel will cover the Pee Dee region; Tea Party activist Chris Horne will handle Charleston; and Charleston Tea Party Vice Chairman Joanne Jones will be a coalition organizer.
Columbia Tea Party founder Allen Olson announced his support for Gingrich in September and is helping with the campaign’s grassroots campaign.
While Gingrich is beefing up efforts in the Palmetto State, he is not dismissing the earlier nominating states. Last month, CNN reported Gingrich stepped up efforts in New Hampshire by hiring his first four paid staffers in the state.
Gingrich has been rebuilding his campaign after most of his staff quit en masse over the summer, including South Carolina operatives Katon Dawson and Walter Whetsell, who are now working for Perry.
The presidential candidate has acknowledged making the mistake of hiring "regular" consultants, which cost the campaign about four months, he said, because "I don't run regular campaigns."
"The mistake I made was I brought in regular consultants who run regular campaigns and then we spent three or four months fighting each other and wasting time and money. Now I don't run regular campaigns," Gingrich said during an October 28 Greenville visit.
How much of this is political smoke & mirrors? SC is divided into 3 regions, 2 of which historically have voted Democrat. The only area that consistently votes Republican is the upstate, which has seen a massive influx of Hispanic immigrants as well as transplants from other regions of the country. It's only a matter of time until this state becomes a swing state.
It seems like a lot of money and effort spent by a lot of people for a state that has 9 electoral votes.
To me, Gingrich and Romney are the two, opposites in many ways, Republicans most likely to end up fighting for the nomination once the voting begins in the primaries.
Newt brings real experience and a record of political accomplishments in domestic issues to the contest as well as real eloquence in speech and manner.
Mitt brings real business and management experience as well as his success as governor of a very liberal democratic state in Massachusetts, demonstrating his ability to work across party lines as the state executive.
Either would be a great improvement over Obama as president, but I think Romney has a better chance of picking up much needed support from disaffected democrats and independents in the general election.
If that is the choice when my state primary rolls around, it will be a tough choice for me
Newt, go for it. You don't stand a chance but anything to weaken romney is a good thing
Is it true that if elected Romney wants to put the golden tablets and a seeing stone in the court houses????
Watch Gingrich folks! His poll ratings are climbing and justifiably so. It would be great seeing Gingrich do some Lincoln-Douglas type debates with Obama!