DeMint: Gingrich handled charges best he could

U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint
U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) addresses a rally organized by Americans for Progress on Capitol Hill Nov. 15, 2010 in Washington, DC. Associated with the Tea Party movement, Americans for Progress members and supporters rallied to "send a clear message to Washington that voters have spoken this November and that politicians should not pursue big government policies in the Lame Duck session."
Getty Images/Chip Somodevilla

Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., said the accusations made by Newt Gingrich's second wife in an ABC News interview, and his fierce denials at last night's GOP debate, may make no difference in Saturday's South Carolina primary.

But the senator said the former House speaker handled Marianne Gingrich's charges he wanted an open marriage as best he could, not only denying the allegations but also slamming the "destructive, vicious, negative" media for making it issue to begin with.

"Well, he probably handled it as well as he could have, because the best defense is sometimes a good offense," DeMint said. "He certainly went on the offense last night. But today, I think South Carolinians will have a chance to digest it. Whether or not it makes a difference in the race, I'm not sure.

"It's clearly a two-man race right now here in South Carolina, and I think you'll see things change in the next few hours as these candidates get around the state. I don't know if we're going to have any other major news announcements today or not, but yesterday was certainly something to watch."

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DeMint has refused to make a public endorsement of any of the Republican contenders, despite having backed Romney in 2008.

He said he prefers to keep his focus on Senate elections in order to win a conservative majority there, "because it doesn't matter who we have in the White House, which Republican, if we still have the same Senate we do today."

When asked by Gayle King if there is any development that could prompt him to make an endorsement before Saturday's voting, DeMint replied, "No, I don't think so. And I don't think there are very many folks in South Carolina who are waiting for me to tell them how to vote. South Carolinians are very independent, and I think you'll see them pick the best candidate, and I think that candidate is likely to be the next president of the United States."

A poll of likely Republican primary voters in South Carolina released Thursday by American Research Group shows Gingrich one point ahead of Romney, 33 to 32 percent.

On "CBS This Morning" Major Garrett of National Journal said the mood of South Carolina will likely shift between now and Saturday after Thursday's events - Rick Perry bowing out, the Marianne Gingrich interview, and the debate. "It's going to be close, but we can't say for sure this is Gingrich's to win," Garrett said.

Garrett asked DeMint about Rick Santorum's prospects in Saturday's primary as he makes his case for being a conviction conservative candidate.

"Well, I think he's very popular here," said DeMint. "In fact, you talk to people and they could say two or three of these candidates are very popular with them, but they're just trying to decide which one.

"It could shift - Rick's a good guy, a strong character, and I think he did well last night. So he could get back in play. But just from the polls I was looking at this morning, it looks like a two-man race."

Watch DeMint's full interview above.