(CNN) - Two of South Carolina’s longest-serving elected officials said Sunday that campaign mistakes by Mitt Romney helped Newt Gingrich run away with the state’s first-in-the-South primary.
Republican Sen. Jim DeMint, a powerhouse in conservative politics, told CNN Chief Political Correspondent Candy Crowley that Romney bungled calls in the last week to release his income tax returns. Romney committed Sunday to releasing his tax forms on Tuesday.
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“I think what hurt him is he wasn't definitive in his answer,” DeMint said on CNN’s “State of the Union with Candy Crowley.”
“He should have said immediately ‘I'll do it in April,’ or ‘I'm not going to do it,’ or ‘I'm going to do it immediately.’ But the fact that he wasn't clear, I think, is what hurt him," said DeMint, who endorsed Romney in 2008 but has yet to declare his support for anyone this time.
"I frankly don't care about his tax returns," DeMint added. "I think this stigmatizing success is a real mistake for Republicans. But he just needed to be definitive about what he was going to do.”
Democratic Rep. James Clyburn, who serves as the assistant minority leader in the House of Representatives, pinned Romney’s loss on an inability to connect with South Carolina Republicans.
“Romney seemed not to be able to connect with his base; he really separated himself from the voters,” Clyburn said. “It was very clear to me that he was cutting himself off. ... He was not doing well with identifying with ordinary voters. He doesn’t seem to be able to do that.”
As for Gingrich, Clyburn said the former Georgia congressman and House speaker appealed to voters in the first Southern primary by using familiar terms when discussing President Barack Obama.
“He was throwing red meat to his base,” Clyburn said. “Throwing code words to his base, words we’re familiar with in South Carolina.”
Clyburn, the highest-ranking African American member of the House of Representatives, singled out the “food stamp president” label Gingrich has employed as a particular example of coded language.
“All of this carries certain connotations that people know very very well, and I think that he practiced that perfectly,” Clyburn said.
The South Carolina Democratic denied he was calling Gingrich a racist.
“I’m saying he’s appealing to an element in the party that sees Obama as different that any of the other presidents that we've had,” Clyburn said.
DeMint, meanwhile, said Gingrich’s assault on the media played well for voters in his state.
When asked at Thursday's debate about a claim by his ex-wife, Gingrich responded the question was inappropriate and part of an anti-conservative bias in the mainstream media.
“What they saw in the debate from Newt was that he was willing to take on the media," DeMint said. "That gives us a sense that he might be willing to take on the Washington establishment."