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Newt Gingrich has momentum as South Carolina goes to the polls

Polls show the South Carolina primary Saturday is now Newt Gingrich's to lose after Mitt Romney stumbled this week. But Romney still is favored to win Florida's primary and the nomination.

By Staff writer / January 21, 2012

Republican presidential candidate and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich attends a campaign event on the U.S.S. Yorktown in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina Friday, January 20, 2012.

Eric Thayer/Reuters

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What a difference a week can make!

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When he got up Monday morning, Mitt Romney had a comfortable 23-point Gallup poll advantage over GOP presidential rivals Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum in national tracking polls.

By the end of the week, and as South Carolinians went to the polls in the first southern primary election, that margin had been cut by more than half to 10 points. Worse yet, some South Carolina polls had Romney dropping behind Gingrich – 26-32 percent in the latest Clemson University Palmetto Poll.

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What happened?

Rick Perry dropped out and endorsed Gingrich – not only shifting at least some primary votes to the former House speaker but reducing the number of candidates among whom the more conservative vote likely would have been split to Romney’s advantage.

• On Monday and Thursday, Gingrich performed solidly in debates, winning standing ovations while Romney stumbled over questions about his wealth and the amount of income taxes he pays. Gingrich even turned what could have been an “open marriage” blow to his already-questionable marital history into a well-received blast at the “destructive, vicious, negative nature of much of the news media.”

• It turned out that Santorum, not Romney, had won the most votes in the Iowa caucuses. In the overall scheme of things, it wasn’t a big deal. But it was a distraction that helped deflate Romney’s supposed front-runner status.

“Clearly things are collapsing” for Romney, Gallup’s Editor-in-chief Frank Newport told MSNBC.

“The margin for Romney has evaporated this week, and we believe that Gingrich will win the South Carolina primary,” says Clemson University political scientist Dave Woodard. 

That’s the prediction from two other prominent sources.

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