Romney Narrowly Avoids Awkward Gingrich Showdown at S.C. Ham House

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Gingrich at the center of the universe, or more accurately Tommy's Country Ham House.
Photo: Win McNamee/2012 Getty Images

That was a close one! To avoid what would've certainly been a most awkward encounter with re-re-re-resurgent Newt Gingrich at a double-booked event at Tommy’s Country Ham House in Greenville this morning, Mitt Romney showed up 45 minutes early, sped through his stump speech, before practically running around the room shaking hands and skedaddling back to his campaign bus. Gingrich, who had challenged Romney to an impromptu debate at the restaurant (which the latter, naturally, declined), was apparently forced to wait several minutes outside because “there’s this big white bus blocking our parking spot.”

At the start of his own remarks, Gingrich asked: “I have a question — where’s Mitt? I thought he was going to stay and maybe we’d have a little debate here this morning." According to the Hill's reporter on the scene, several supporters made clucking chicken noises.

Last night, Romney's campaign had sent out an e-mail adding a last-minute stop at Tommy's Country Ham House for today at 10:45 in the morning, eight minutes after Gingrich's campaign announced an event at the same place and time. When reached by Buzzfeed, Romney's press secretary had said it was just a "coincidence" and that the embattled front-runner (or former front-runner, more like) would stick to the schedule. Gingrich's team gallantly offered "to buy Governor Romney ham at OUR event" and even went so far as to check with the restaurant's owner, who had no idea that Romney was planning on stopping by.

Much as Impolitic found at competing Romney-Gingrich rallies last night, the near-miss this morning captures quite well the astonishing reversal we've seen these past few days in South Carolina. Romney shaken, rushed, and sticking to the same old, same old; Gingrich confident as can be, speaking off the cuff and easily landing a few jovial punches. If the latest polls and projections hold, today will be one of the biggest upsets in recent presidential election history.