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South Carolina primary 'neck and neck,' says Mitt Romney

The Republican South Carolina primary was "neck and neck" hours before voting opened, according to presidential hopeful Mitt Romney. The latest polls have him tied with rival Newt Gingrich.

Gingrich romney 2011 11 21Enlarge
Republican presidential candidates former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney chat before a debate hosted by CNBC and the Michigan Republican Party at Oakland University on Nov. 9, 2011, in Rochester, Mich. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Hours before voting opens in the South Carolina primary, Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney said the race was "neck and neck."

"I'm still hoping and planning to win here," Romney told supporters last night – but also admitted that he expected to lose "some primaries" to main rival Newt Gingrich, the Associated Press reported.

More from GlobalPost: Can Mitt Romney pass the "Duck Test"?

Romney, who until this week had a seemingly unassailable lead over his opponents, appeared to want to lower expectations ahead of today's vote, according to Reuters.

"Speaker Gingrich is from a neighboring state, well-known, popular in the state, so I knew we'd have a long road ahead of us" in South Carolina, Romney said. "Frankly, to be in a neck-and-neck race at this last moment is kind of exciting."

Gingrich, meanwhile, said last night he was hoping for "a shockingly big victory" Saturday, reported the BBC.

The latest polls suggest he could well win, though not by a large margin. A poll by Clemson University released yesterday put Gingrich six points ahead of Romney, with 32 percent to Romney's 26 percent. Ron Paul placed third with 11 percent, while Rick Santorum came in last with 9 percent.

Meanwhile according to the Real Clear Politics survey of the latest polling data, Romney is still out in with 31 percent, an 11-point lead over Gingrich with 20 percent. The chart has Paul and Santorum tied at around 14 percent.

Gingrich's rating has jumped following a spirited performance in Thursday's candidate debate, plus ongoing attacks on Romney for his refusal to release his tax returns.

In response, Romney yesterday pressured his opponent to release the confidential report from Congress' 1997 investigation into his conduct, which saw Gingrich become the first House of Representatives speaker to be sanctioned for ethics violations. Gingrich called the move a "panic attack."

The two are set to meet later this morning at the same restaurant, Tommy's Country Ham House in Greenville, where both have scheduled campaign stops.

Even if Romney does lose in South Carolina, Reuters said, he remains the best positioned of the four candidates. He has more campaign funds and a stronger organization than any of his rivals, advantages which could prove key in the next primary, in Florida on Jan. 31.

More from GlobalPost: Newt Gingrich surges to first place in newest polls

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/americas/united-states/120121/south-carolina-primary-polls-mitt-romney-newt-gingrich