Charleston, South Carolina (CNN) - With Newt Gingrich creeping up in the polls and potentially on the cusp of a South Carolina victory, one of Mitt Romney's senior advisers sought to change expectations ahead of Saturdays' pivotal presidential primary.
Though his campaign has competed aggressively in the state and is hungry for a win here, Romney strategist Stuart Stevens said the idea of a loss to Gingrich on Saturday is not far-fetched.
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"Do I think we could lose South Carolina? Sure. Of course," Stevens told CNN after Thursday's presidential debate in Charleston.
"The very idea that we are sitting where we are two days before South Carolina, having won New Hampshire, having done very well in Iowa, and the question is 'Could Romney lose South Carolina,' is such an absurd question."
"The idea should be does he have a chance in South Carolina," Stevens claimed.
When it was noted that Romney had a 10-point lead over Gingrich as recently as Tuesday, Stevens shook his head.
"These things were always going to be close," he said. "I think it's very competitive. I think it's a four-way race. The whole race is very fluid."
The late effort to adjust Romney's prospects comes as public and private campaign polling shows a tightening race in South Carolina, following strong debate performances this week from Gingrich, several flubs by Romney on the campaign trail and Rick Perry's decision to abandon his White House bid.
Romney and Gingrich are now essentially battling one-on-one down the stretch, with Rick Santorum in third place.
"It's tight, it's real tight," said one Romney adviser who did not want to be quoted discussing internal poll numbers.
One trend has emerged in Romney's internal polling: a sharp gender gap between the two frontrunners.
Romney is holding onto a robust lead over Gingrich among female voters, but the flip side is also true - Gingrich is beating Romney among men.
A second place finish by the former Massachusetts governor in South Carolina would unquestionably be a disappointment for a campaign that was confident and riding high just last week after a decisive Romney victory in New Hampshire.
Romney has traveled around South Carolina with Gov. Nikki Haley at his side for two weeks, and the campaign has spent heavily on television, radio, mail and phone calls to targeted voters.
Haley radiated optimism on Thursday, telling CNN: "We are going to win South Carolina."
Another leading Romney surrogate, state treasurer Curtis Loftis, did not seem so confident at a campaign event on Friday.
"It has been a hard week," Loftis said at a rally in Gilbert. "Nobody is gonna deny that."
There are other signs that the Romney team is anxious.
The campaign added an extra campaign event in Greenville on Friday night - a late effort to hold down Gingrich's and Santorum's margins in the socially conservative and evangelical-heavy upstate.
Romney, meanwhile, is hoping to bank most of his votes along the more moderate coast, where the fiscal and military issues that Romney prefers to talk about on the stump predominate.
Behind the scenes, Romney advisers in Boston have been scrambling this week to halt Gingrich's renewed momentum.
After Gingrich shot up in the polls after Monday's debate in Myrtle Beach, the Romney campaign swiftly sharpened their attacks on Gingrich and arranged a series of conference calls with reporters to challenge the former House speaker's judgment and discipline.
Meanwhile, Missi Sousa, a staffer in Romney's political shop in Boston, blasted out a message Wednesday to campaign backers nationwide urging them to call into South Carolina and "turn out Mitt's supporters."
"Please get the word out to your personal networks," Sousa wrote in the email, provided to CNN by a Romney supporter in Columbia. "This is all hands on deck."
Romney campaign officials and surrogates also tried unsuccessfully this week to bring on several South Carolina business leaders and Republican fundraisers who were backing former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman.
But the Romney entreaties were rebuffed, multiple sources told CNN, and many of those Huntsman backers publicly endorsed Gingrich instead on Thursday.
Some of that movement can be attributed to veteran GOP strategist Richard Quinn, who worked for Huntsman but signed on with the Gingrich campaign on Thursday to assist with the final South Carolina push.
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The choice is eazy. Newt or Barack.
That mus be eazy also for the evangelicans!
Well, South Carolina CAN be considered Newt's home turf given it's proximity to Georgia. Actually it would be considered a surprise to see Romney win. I do think Romney needs to become much more aggressive in his style, especially if he gets the nomination and has to go after Obama. I think that is what a lot of voters like about Newt. Although there are times he goes over the line.
he ain't as great as what he thinks his money can buy.
Find a group of women like Newt's creepy 3rd wife and buy their votes - that should do it. it's gonna take more than your $60 "pocket change".
Robotmney needs to crank it up. Pull out another million and let's roll this mother up!
Results from last nights Repub debait – President Obama wins again!
Yup, and the longer you delay releasing your tax returns for many previous years, the more you're going to keep losing. Stashing 100 mil offshore does not a president make. Mitt says he has no tax issues with it, but don't think people stash money offshore after they pay taxes on it.
It appears the the slimy ads run by Mittens' PAC and Rove, against Newt are not working. Maybe the Cayman Kid needs to release his tax returns from 1984- 1990.
Romney is spending too much time running against Obama and not enough time running for the nomination.
I guess he still hasn't learned what it takes to run a campaign.
Mittens may well lose two out of the first three. Lies against his opponents do not seem to be working.
I really don't think South Carolinians are dumb enough to vote for Newt. Well, okay, I've been to the South, maybe they are, but I really hope not.
Good news ,All the new Polls show Newt is leading,
Pious Baloney can’t win conservatives votes
You would think that tax evasion would be a plus for Mittens, but maybe not this time.
So what, you will lose the general election anyway. This will save you some time and money if you just drop out now.
This article tells me what I already knew: women are often smarter than men.
Excellent news! Mitt Rmoney is hiding his tax returns and his Cayman Island dealings.
He needs to go back to being a corporate raider, bailout recipient and job destroyer.
Mitt's got a big problem. Not just in South Carolina either. Guy just isn't electable.
It's a PROVEN track record-- When the going gets tough Mitt Romney back peddles. What do you expect from a man who has no idea of being a middle-class or bottom class. Mitt Romney spells DISASTER for the USA.
Willard is totally UNPREPARED for the job of POTUS as we all saw last night. The man can't answer a single question without saying something negative about Obama. When is he going to start to tell us what HIS plans are and quit trying to take us for ignorant by taking the focus OFF himself and placing it on Obama. OBAMA IS NOT RUNNING AGAINST YOU YET. This trick is wearing thin and the people in SC are waking up to his lies. You can't hide any longer Willard – people ARE ON TO YOU NOW and you are going to go DOWN from here.
On another note – wasn't it funny when Willard claimed he earned his money and didn't inherit it? What will this liar think of next?
Romney represents the dark side of capitalism,,, he doesn't deserve to be president,,, he doesn't deserve our trust,,,
Santorum wins Iowa, Romney wins NH, and Gingrich will win SC....what a mess!!
That Romney would engage in such questionable (if not shady) Camen Islands bank account business is a disgrace.
Is it any wonder this country is in trouble?
And then there's unrepentant Gingrich, raging with impunity, in all of his arrogance.
Ron Paul and Rick Santorum are looking better and better, all the time.
The Romnoid is stuttering and getting jerky.
I don't vote for someone I don't respect.
That leaves out all of the republican field except Paul and Huntsman, but the ignorant people in southern states don't have respect, don't want respect, and probably will only demand it.
Thank you Teapublicans for ignoring Huntsman and now supporting Newt. Mitt and Huntsman are the only to canidates that poll well against Obama. Go Newt.......... go lose to Obama by 15% points in November!
Romney will lose the general election against Obama if he makes it that far for one simple reason. Romney has "foot in mouth" disease. With glaringly callous and anti-middle class comments like, "Corporations are people too, my friend", and "I like to fire people", and "I didn't make much money in speaking engagements last year, only $370,000" and "I only paid 15% in income tax last year" and the worst comment, "People are just jealous of my money." All these very stupid comments show just how disconnected and unsympathetic Romney is to the middle class. He is a poster child for the "One-percenters".
"Maybe the Cayman Kid needs to release his tax returns from 1984- 1990."
I don't care one bit about Romney, but releasing tax returns is not a requirement to be President of the United States. If we are going to try and make him release his tax returns, then all politicians need to do the same – and I've got a feeling there are others that would look as bad, if not worse.