CHARLESTON, S.C. - Could the Republican establishment be gearing up to get behind Newt Gingrich?
Following the former Speaker's 13-point upset over Mitt Romney in South Carolina's Republican primary on Saturday, some Republicans are signaling an openness to Gingrich's presidential candidacy.
In an appearance on CBS' "Face the Nation" Sunday, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina stopped short of endorsing Gingrich, but allowed that, not only has "Newt Gingrich has changed a lot in a positive way," but that he's proved to the American people he can go toe-to-toe with President Obama in 2012.
"Newt not only won the debates," Graham said. "He convinced people that he could beat Barack Obama... electability was the issue before the South Carolina primary, during the primary and on voting day. Newt won."
In the aftermath of Mitt Romney's loss, many observers pointed to a series of mis-steps on Romney's part over the last week - but Graham said the outcome of Saturday's contest wasn't as much about Romney losing as it was about Gingrich winning.
"We had 600,000 people vote," he said. "The largest Republican primary in history occurred yesterday. People were energized. They were looking close. They picked Newt. This was Newt winning more than anybody else losing."
Asked if he was willing to endorse Gingrich, Graham demurred - but allowed: "Here's what I am willing to say, that Newt Gingrich has changed a lot in a positive way."
Citing his position on immigration, Graham added, "Newt's putting on the table real solutions in a way today that he wouldn't have done in 1994. That kind of maturing and thought, I think, is going to help the party and help him."
Former Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, also on the show, cited Graham's suggestion that "Newt's become a much better candidate" over time, though he said he thinks it "remains to be seen" whether Gingrich has a better chance of beating Mr. Obama.
But, he said, "he is tremendous in debate. He's the best debater by far, not close. Romney's strengths are more managerial."
Barbour did not dismiss those qualities, however.
"There are a lot of people in the United States who understand we need some management after watching this administration," he said. "We need somebody that knows how to get things done. Romney has in my opinion been very courageous to tackle the entitlement programs of the Obama administration."