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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Mitt Romney still gets my vote. Two debates will NOT change my mind. Newt is a fine debater and has a few good ideas, but too many flaws to earn my vote.
Romney to his campaign:::
WE WILL DO IT LIVE, "F" IT. WE WILL DO IT LIVE....CALL "W@3R" HE IS MY BANKER IN THE CAYMAN ISLAND...TELL HIM I NEED 2,000,000 YESTERDAY.
It's pocket change anyway....
Right Mitt "A little bit of money" Romney.
I love Mitt as a candidate and I have supported him here in Massachusetts whenever he ran. However, I am so disappointed in his debate performances of late - his cautious quiet approach is losing him the momentum and will cost him South Carolina now -- He is just too timid in his responses and too defensive - this is NOT what the party needs to defeat Obama. To have a tax return issue at this late stage is incredulous - whoever on Mitt's staff gave him the advice not to release should be fired. It seems as if everyone saw this one coming except Mitt. As for his Bain issues, again he has been timid and ill prepared.
Mitt, my friend, you are in a fight, but you are not hitting back - and that rope a dope style is going to cost you the fight -- and the White House. YOU could have been a contender -– but it seems that you are afraid or unwilling to mix it up -- and this is DZC politics – the big league -- and passive PAC ads won;t get you where you wqant to go.
You are badly bloddied Newt and you just took a 9-count. If you do not start fighting with aggression and passion, the ref is going to call this fight.
Sad.....very sad... especially since Gingrich will never beat Obama becasue he and th3e Dems will do to Newt what you are afraid to do -- BEAT HIM at his own game
There is not one of the current crop of Republican presidential candidates I would vote for in November; and I am a registered Republican. Obama isn't any better either.
Well, well, well. The circus show takes a turn for the interesting.
Colbert 012'! President of the US of SC!
So Romney makes millions, pays taxes on it, then sets up accounts in the Caymans. This is fraud how? His company invests in poor performing companies that would likely shut their doors anyways, have to lay people off sometimes to save the companies, and now he is a 'vulture capitalist'? Even if you don't like the guy, who are you people?
@GI Joe – As a southerner, I find your generalization rather ignorant.
Romney is going to Win SC and FL. I would bet you $10K but I don't have it. I can do Monopoly money if you wish.
@Wire Palladin, S. F. - I am so tired of your LIES. Please go away. You are so annoying. You do not put facts out, you only blast the guy because you thin he is lying and he doesn't want what is best for the country. Please just look at the good of his past and present. You can't find that in Newt, maybe a little in Santorum, and you can find a bit more than Santorum in Ron Paul.
Why the heck do the Republicans drag out their Primary for so long? If ALL States just voted on the same day, they wouldn't have this problem.
Could or should? You should of said "Should".. Romney "Should" loose in SC.. Romney is a habitual flip flopper in the wost ways, even worse than santorum. Not as bad as Gingrich though. Still he's just as unreliable and he takes way to much credit for things he really had no part in. That spells distaster and incompetence. He says words that never amount to anything other than "I helped health care in my state" by what? Making it Obama care mini? I don't consider that helping, I consider that a step toward loosing free markets. Anyone who understands the economy even a little, understands this. It's Ron Paul or we Fail people.. Let's not fail again.
Ron Paul is the only one I trust and the ONLY one who does not flip flop. Incorruptable.. Proven over so many years it's insane. Gives back his congressional check 100k a year (WHO DOES THAT?!) He's always said the same thing, always kept true to good values. If the American people do not vote Ron Paul into the presidency, this country is a total failure and the system is so corrupt, that they likely falsified the ballots "Again"...
At the end Mitt will get the nomination but he will be weak and that is good for Obama.
I want to take a shower everytime I see this guy.
@ ContrastandCompare – Republican voters like you are the reason China has taken so many American jobs. If you didn't outright hate your own fellow Americans we could make progress towards lowering unemployment numbers and bringing back jobs from overseas. Instead you want an adulterer hypocrite or corporate vulture capitalist to come in and make it harder to get a job here, harder to afford a home here, vastly more expensive to buy energy here, etc. Evil ideas put forth in the most sanctamoneous ways by the psychopath population in America – where empathy is a bad word and wealth is free speech.
I want Newt to win. His win will keep this republican circus going for a while. It's becoming interesting looking at it from the corner of my eyes. LOL. Anyway, this is good news for Oboma.
South Carolina is literally the Welfare state. For every Dollar they pay in taxes, they get about $1.3 back.
Romney is reluctant to turn over his tax returns as he doesn't want the American public to know the amount tithed to the Church of LDS. Remember proposition 8 in California banning gay marriage. The LDS members were instructed by their President of the church to donate large amounts of money to see that it was banned, and it was banned. They have the power to buy this election! They do whatever they are instructed to do, and don't doubt their power for a minute.
South Carolina: We'll vote for you, Mitt- after we see your tax returns.
@A Romney Supporter from Massachusetts – You are so right. You should be one of the staffers in his campaign. I still think he will win, not a huge win, but he will win.
We'll pass around a get well card for him... poor little greedy fellow!
Romney recently explained how out-of-touch he is with most Americans. What on earth was he thinking when he clearly and explicitly indicates that making almost $30, 000 per month just as speaking fees, is 'NOT MUCH'? This comes out of his own mouth, not from a spokesperson...hahahaha...
In saying this so nonchalantly, he actually said 'I proud to be a part of the 1%...who cares about the 99%'?
The answer is: 'Obama does'. Romney stands so aloof from and out-of-touch with the overwhelming majority of us and we will NOT vote for him here in Carolina, NOR in the general election if he wins the nomination.
Doesn't matter, they're all horrible and will lose come November anyway.
If Romney looses to Newt. Romney is the most qualified candidate we have had in years.
FOX is protecting Mitt. Why are you protecting the anti-christ (Mitt), tax evader, the job killer of white people, Mr. 1%, question dodger, avoider of minorities, a lying S. O. B., flip flopper.
There is no way in h e l l he will become President. Be honest with your readers Fox.
If you think Newt has a temper, just wait for the first debate with Obama. You haven't seen anything until Barack Hussein Obama has his teller prompter taken away at the debate. Anger is his hidden charm – NOT!
@Larry – You in fantasy land with Obama.