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.
Follow the Ticker on Twitter: @politicalticker
"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.
Perry drops out, endorses Gingrich
Judge-drawn Texas redistricting map tossed out by Supreme Court
Gingrich releases 2010 federal tax records
Santorum tries to shoulder past Romney, Gingrich in debate
Romney was not very inspiring last night, but i can't figure out all the grass-roots support for Newt. Sure, he is a good public speaker and gets angry, which may match people's moods. But this is a classic DC insider who took millions as a lobbyist after getting out of Congress. His own GOP House members threw him out as speaker. He had ethical lapses as a Congressman. He cheated on his wife while lambasting Clinton for the same. He is a flip-flopper on many issues. He has an inflated view of himself and his place in history. My conclusions: a) I can't figure out why people support him b) he would probably lose to Obama and c) if he did somehow win, he would be dangerous as president.
Have you noticed how he tries to put down people by saying they are envy and he has earned it by hard work. So, his hard work his legitimate and the gets a tax break. Average Joe like me that earns 50K is not hard work and so it does not get tax break. These repubs are hypocrits and hold on to their rich folks base by getting votes in the name of religion. OBAMA/BIDEN 2012
Gee, a gun control Yankee losing in South Carolina. I'm shocked and stunned.
I don't care who wins the Republican nomination as long as it isn't Santorum. If Santorum wins, my vote goes to Obama. Otherwise, I'll take the Republican.
CRAZY is the word...
It's CRAZY to see two republican NUTS battling for first place in South Carolina at the expense of the ONLY two SOBER candidates offered up for election: Santorum and Huntsman. This really shows how disconnected South Carolina's are with real issues. The religious junkies seems to be having fun proving how narrow-mined they are with regards to political reality. Religion will NEVER run this country...it's really, really, CRAZY!!!
Sounds like good news to me.
Romney cavalierly makes $10,000 bets. He hands out $150 like is was pocket change. And says that making $347,000 "isn't a lot of money." And stashes millions in foreign banks.
But he wants us to believe he comes from the streets of America. I don't know what streets those are, but my guess there in a gated-community.
Gingrich did what all good cheaters do. If at first you can't lie your way out of trouble immediately accuse your accuser of doing something despicable. We should not reward him for being a good cheater.
On the other hand, Ron Paul, being an honest man doesn't have to worry about that. He just has to worry about getting the corrupt media to stop ignoring him.
Ron Paul ~ 2012 ~
AMAZING....it's not simply an accusation BUT a fact that Newt ran around on his first two wives. SO why is it so difficult to believe that he had a MINOR conversation with his wife about an open marriage ? Kinsey reports that two-thirds of all U.S. married men run around. Newt might have marginalized his prolificate ways as being apart of his
"forgiven past". BUT instead chose a lying route which further exaggerates and distorts his already questionable moral reputation. Its no longer a question of "he said-she said"..... but rather "why lie about it Newt"- you are running for the same position first held by George Washington, credited with "I can not tell a lie".
As soon as Mormon friendly Nevada rolls around Romney should be back in good shape. Last time 25% of the caucus goers were of Romney's faith. Also, there is Colorado, Arizona, and Michigan in the month of February and only one debate toward the end of the month. I don't see this going past Super Tuesday (for which Gingrich is not on his home state ballot of Virginia).
Phyllis – Many of the GOP find Newt's bravado as an acceptable substitute for substance...he's hitting all the right code buzz phrases with them. And also – SC is an open primary. A vote for Newt sets Obama up pretty well.
Unbelievable! Romney hiding money off-shore in the Caymans......Gingrich an adulterer and proven liar......these are two in the running for the Republican nomination for POTUS? Really makes me ashamed of our country that we can even CONSIDER people of this ilk. Disgusting.
Nikki Haley, you are just as big of a loser as Mitt Romney is.
He has bought so many people off with either money or promises of appointments. I am sure he is scared that South Carolina has woken up and seen thru the veneer of this politician who keeps his assets offshore, became wealthy by outsourcing jobs and hopes to bring his cult into the mainstream
@ Mr. WILSON
Your vote for a socialist like Obama vs Newt says it all. Your passport or citizenship papers should be closely checked. Sounds like you would prefer to live in Cuba, China or Venzuela. BOATS go both ways, you are welcome to leave at anytime. Why wait... Save us your vote for the wrong person.
The GOP is desperate to get rid of Romney if they are willing to vote for the wind bag whose luggage has turned to a steamer trunk. I was amused by Newt's indignation over his ex-wife's accusation. He always puffs up when he's lying.
why would anyone want a state that loves philanderers? especially philanderers named Newt Gingerich.
Well, that's what Palin wanted – she wanted this thing to go on & on. So -Sanitarium wins Iowa – Romney wins N.H. & "the newter" wins S.C. WOW !! LOL – I swear – I wonder how she ever got thru high school, let alone elected governor of that state. I guess everybody still thinks whatever she says, that's the way they will end up Voting ! LOL. I guess when you live in Alaska, the cold weather must do something to their minds up there, no wonder why she "endorsed" the Newter. It's a wonder she ever got thru 5th grade.
Newt will take the win!
After five years of running for POTUS Romney still does not get it, he is suppose to be campaigning for the Republican nomination and yet he can't go up against the Republican candidates. He has the same bumper sticker speeches for every debate and conceded he reallly does not like fighting for the nomination and wishes he could only talk Obama whch proves he is to weak to go in for the kill. Romney looks and sounds like he is out of air and the last two debates he has lost which is too bad for Team Obama because there is little doubt they would like to destroy him in the debates if he was nominated. Newt thinks he can outsmart Obama in a debate which could be a great dissapointment for Newt. Newt is good at the debates but doing actual Presidential work 24-7 for four years is no place for someone like Newt, he ruined Washington and now feels he is entitled to go back and fix all of HIS errors.
I agree. The GOP knows that Romney is a loser and is acceptable to many on the Christian right. So desperate, that they would even accept the miserable, immoral and wretched Newt as a candidate. My guy Obama is bound for for a second term. I'll be putting the champagne on ice for November.
I am a proud member of the Grand Old Party. I hope that every GOP and Independent who is thinking that it is time for a change of leadership votes for the candidate who can beat Obama. Winning is everything and it is the only thing. Losing is for losers and we can't afford Obama for another term. Win, Win, Win.
Newt and Palin , what a team, I can't wait for the debates with Obama. Obama 2012
We need a viable 3rd party at this point in time. And I don't mean Ron Paul, the loony Libertarian! Voting Democrat or Republican is a vote for 'tweedledee' or 'tweedledum'.
Mitt Romney is going to loose because he won't release his tax records. He looks like an idiot, especially since his father opened 12 years of his when he was running and stated that everyone should. Did he not learn from his own father? Kind of makes you think he hiding something huh? And it makes him really look stupid because if he does get the nomination and releases them, Obama will have a field day bashing them. He's throwing his entire party under the bus as well as the 40-50% of the population that votes republican. Selfish and stupid.
If Romney loses SC, he won't win any southern state – watch.