Can Mitt Romney recover from his South Carolina 'disaster'?
Newt Gingrich defied conventional political wisdom in coming back to win solidly in South Carolina. Can he do the same in Florida, and what must Mitt Romney do to recover from Saturday's drubbing?
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Or was it a clear sign that all bets are off in the GOP nomination race – a time when the mix of social, economic, and political forces in the United States have combined to create a new landscape for electoral politics?
Just three contests into the primary/caucus season, the question may be unanswerable, the kind of thing that keeps pundits and political scientists gainfully employed. But the results are stark.
“The size of his defeat by Newt Gingrich – a 12%+ landslide in a four-way race – is virtually a repudiation of his candidacy in a state that has prided itself on picking the eventual nominee for 32 years,” they write. “And we suspect Romney will have several more nights of heartburn, much like this one, as the nomination process unfolds.”
In the Palmetto State, Romney’s slide from presumptive front-runner was swift. Three days earlier, he’d had a clear lead in the polls. But back-to-back debates in South Carolina clearly showed Romney’s weakness and Gingrich’s strength in such crucial venues. Romney waffled on his wealth and income taxes; Gingrich dined on red meat when he took after the media over his marital infidelities.
Gingrich did well across the board in South Carolina, according to exit polls gathered by CNN: By gender (51 percent of men and 49 percent of women voted for him), age, education and income level, religion, ideology (Romney barely won among self-described moderates).
Most tea party supporters went for Gingrich. Importantly, so did most of those for whom the ability to defeat Barack Obama was the key to winning their vote – “electability,” which was supposed to be Romney’s strong point.
If Romney doesn’t want to be discouraged by the Sunday morning analysis of his defeat, he’d better stick to the funny papers.