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'This Gingrich thing -- you can feel it."

ORANGEBURG, S.C. -- Newt Gingrich was in his element: On stage, a rapt crowd hanging on his words, the spotlight of the national media upon him as he surges in South Carolina the day before Saturday’s Republican primary.

This didn’t look like a candidate whose ex-wife, Marianne, accused him on national television the day before of wanting an “open marriage.”

Nor did he seem like the victim of a classic South Carolina dirty trick earlier in the day: A fake CNN news alert e-mail falsely claiming he wanted his ex “to abort a pregnancy conceived during the affair that preceded her marriage to Gingrich.”

Instead, Gingrich looked like the confident frontrunner he always thought he should be.

“We knew, when we decided we’d run, we knew there’d be negative attack ads, we knew the elite media would attack us,” Gingrich told the overflow crowd of hundreds here.

The criticisms and controversies so far have allowed him to grow stronger by giving him the chance to showcase what Mitt Romney lacks: pugnacity.

“He’s a fighter. He’s fearless. He’s not politically correct. I love that,” said Carolyn Walker, a 46-year-old Republican from nearby Lexington.

Thursday night’s debate, in which Gingrich tongue-lashed CNN moderator John King over the “open marriage” question, sealed the deal for numerous voters interviewed Friday. Next to bashing President Obama, attacking the news media is a path to electoral gold among conservatives.

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