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2012: Dirty tricks?

“Now is the time that GOP presidential candidates, vying to be the ‘Romney alternative’ in South Carolina, could take their cues from South Carolina’s history book. Play dirty,” The State newspaper writes. “In South Carolina – with its tradition of whisper campaigns, automated phone calls that no one takes credit for and possibly illegal efforts to sway voters – politics is a blood sport, supported by a cottage-industry of political strategists.” (It also has a sidebar that lists some of the dirty tricks dating back to 1980.)

The State: “DeMint: Romney will win S.C. primary.” DeMint told conservative radio host Mark Levin: "I think Romney's going to win here.”

And even though DeMint says he’s not endorsing this time, and that he best serves the party by trying to help the GOP take back the Senate, AP notes the following: “There are other signs that DeMint is warm to Romney. The senator's political adviser, Warren Tompkins, and former top aide, Luke Byars, are working on the candidate's behalf. And some close to DeMint, who endorsed Romney in 2008, say he's quietly telling people that he's backing Romney and they should, too.”

GINGRICH: Gingrich yesterday at a book signing appeared to back off his criticism of Romney at Bain. A voter implored him to lay off the attacks and stick to other issues with regard to Romney. Gingrich said in response, per Politico’s Allen and Sherman (via GOP 12): “I agree with you,” Gingrich said. “It’s an impossible theme to talk about with Obama in the background. Obama just makes it impossible to talk rationally in that area because he is so deeply into class warfare that automatically you get an echo effect. … I agree with you entirely.”

But the campaign later issued this release: “This issue at hand is neither about Bain Capital, private equity firms, nor about capitalism.  It is about Mitt Romney’s judgment and character. It was Governor Romney’s decision to base his candidacy, in large part, on his background as a portfolio manager. Thus, it is entirely legitimate to ask questions about whether he is accurately presenting how he conducted himself during that career.”

Gingrich again lamented the state of the tone of American politics, per NBC’s Morgan Parmet: “I'm frankly pretty fed up with the whole tone of America politics and the American government.” This while a Super PAC supporting him is going on air with arguably some of the harshest attacks on any candidate, put a film out about Romney’s time at Bain, and Gingrich’s campaign is out with an ad hitting him on abortion and put up a Web video on Romney yesterday that could have come from Democratic oppo files, hitting on “varmint hunter,” Seamus the dog, and even “Who let the dogs out.”

The New York Daily News: “It’s beginning to look like all-out war between Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich. The former House speaker has released a scathing ad in South Carolina, accusing his rival of flip-flopping on abortion.”

HUNTSMAN: He refrained from joining the chorus of criticism of Bain: “If you have creative destruction in capitalism which is always been the case in capitalism, you know it becomes a little disingenuous to take on Bain Capital, he said, per Parmet. “I think it's more instructive to take on Gov. Romney's record as Gov. He was elected to rep his people for four 4 years, what did he do for the economy? He didn't deliver any big bold economic proposals.”

Huntsman also upped the ante in Florida, where he originally based his campaign: “With my wife coming from Florida, I think the expectations are going to be exceedingly high.”

PAUL: On his second-place finish in New Hampshire, per Parmet: “It's pretty amazing how sometimes when you're in second place they talk about the first and the third place.”

Danger is his middle name: "When they call me dangerous, they're calling you dangerous too! The federal reserve considers us dangerous because they're worried we're going to break up their monopoly and all their bailouts to their friends on Wall Street."

PERRY: He has an ad out in South Carolina that focuses on the military. Nearly one-in-four South Carolina Republican primary voters in 2008 said they had served in the military.

ROMNEY: “Republican front-runner Mitt Romney warned rivals Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry on Wednesday that their attacks on his business record ‘fell flat’ in the New Hampshire primary, a contest the former Massachusetts governor won handily, but both competitors vowed to intensify the onslaught in the South Carolina campaign ahead,” USA Today writes.

“Riding momentum from back-to-back victories, Mitt Romney began campaigning in South Carolina by trying to bolster a sense of inevitability around his drive for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination,” Bloomberg writes.

“Mitt Romney swept into South Carolina on Wednesday in pursuit of a confirming victory in the race for the Republican presidential nomination, buoyed by a second straight electoral triumph, bulging campaign coffers and warm words from the state's pre-eminent practitioner of tea party politics,” The New York Daily News writes.

SANTORUM: Santorum’s aiming for a top-two finish in South Carolina. He said on FOX, per GOP 12: “[A] top-two finish would be absolutely super. We need to show that we're the candidate that is the best one to take on Mitt Romney, and eventually Barack Obama.”

The State newspaper reports Santorum’s opened five new offices in South Carolina.

Rick Santorum tried to distinguish himself from his anti-Romney rivals by siding with Romney on his work at Bain. He made "class warfare" the theme of his town hall in West Columbia, S.C., last night, saying some of his GOP rivals have bought into President Obama's rhetoric of attacking those who have been successful, NBC’s Andrew Rafferty reports. Santorum said, “It’s this hostile rhetoric, which unfortunately - I don't want to stand here and be a defender of Mitt Romney, but unfortunately even some in our party now, even some running for president will engage in with respect to capitalism. It is bad enough for Barack Obama to blame folks in business for causing problems in this country. It’s one other thing for Republicans to join him."