Conceding his loss in South Carolina -- where he finished a disappointing fourth place four years ago -- Mitt Romney told supporters in Columbia that the Republican race was “getting to be even more interesting” and that the competition was only making “our campaign better.”
“We’re now three contests into a long primary season,” he said. “This is a hard fight because there’s so much worth fighting for. We’ve still got a long way to go and a lot more work to do. And tomorrow we are going to move on to Florida. It’s a state that has suffered terribly under the failed policies of President Obama.”
“We need Mitt! We need Mitt!” the crowd chanted.
Romney congratulated former House Speaker Newt Gingrich on his victory but quickly pivoted to an argument that Republicans should not put up a nominee against Obama who has “never run a business and never run a state.” He also faulted Gingrich for joining Obama in the criticism of his private sector experience at a private equity firm – which he described as an attack on freedom and free enterprise.
“We cannot defeat [Obama] with a candidate who has joined that very assault on free enterprise,” he said. “When my opponents attack success and free enterprise, they‘re not only attacking me, they’re attacking every person who dreams of a better future. I will support you. I will help you have a better future.”
Romney argued that the Republican Party “doesn’t demonize prosperity. We celebrate success.”
“Those who pick up the weapons of the left today will find them turned against us tomorrow,” he said.
In a nod to his vast and well-funded organization, Romney vowed to compete for every vote.
“I will compete in every single state. We are going to win this nomination and we are going to defeat President Obama in November,” he said.
The election night party at Romney headquarters was not even a third full when Fox News called the South Carolina primary for Newt Gingrich. The subdued crowd -- a stark contrast to the jubilant one that greeted Romney in New Hampshire -- waited quietly along the bleachers set up inside an event hall at the South Carolina State Fairgrounds.
Shortly before other networks called the race, a cheerleader instructed one side of the center bleachers to shout “President!” and the other “Romney!” Later they switched to “FLO-RID-A! FLO-RID-A!” Outside, as guests entered, another volunteer tried to gin up enthusiasm by reminding attendees that networks from all over the world would be live inside. “Get in there and cheer,” she told them.