With the Iowa recount and the results of South Carolina, three of the remaining four candidates have a victory under their belt. This is in sharp contrast to midweek, when Romney was a 2-0 and favored to win SC.
Romney is still the frontrunner, but there’s no ignoring his loss of momentum going into Florida. Romney finished 4th in SC in 2008, so very few Romney supporters are surprised at his second place finish this year.
Gingrich probably carried the conservative vote over Santorum on the strength of his debate performances. He may have actually gained from the publicity surrounding the release of his wife’s interview Thursday night, as Republicans are wont to crucify a victim and back a scoundrel.
Even with Santorum’s “win” in Iowa, it’s hard to imagine a path forward for him. If he drops out now, it’s entirely possible Gingrich could carry the votes necessary to win some more key states.
While it’s not impossible, it’s still unlikely that the Gingrich campaign, as it stands now, has the legs to go the distance. More monetary support would need to materialize, and Gingrich will need people to continue focusing on what he says today, not what he’s done in the past.
While it’s certainly fair-play to go after a man who maligned Bill Clinton for his relationship with Monica Lewinsky and who defends the “sanctity” of heterosexual marriage, it’s his unsavory political history rife with corruption and cronyism that could sink his campaign. If people catch wind of his ethics violations and tax problems, it may not bode well for him.
Going forward, Florida is another seemingly easy win for Romney… much like South Carolina was meant to be. Romney is polling with a double-digit lead well ahead of the primary, much like he was in SC. These same polls do show one unique feature: Santorum and Gingrich alternate between which is in second place.
Paul is openly passing over Florida, preferring to spread his limited cash among smaller races where his campaign feels confident he can pick up delegates. His focus appears to be on Nevada and Minnesota.
Florida is the largest early primary state, and the media markets are some of the country’s most expensive. Romney’s monetary advantage may be a huge factor, as will the presence of many Northern retirees.
One question many were asking before South Carolina was whether regionalism was dead. However, it seems the political divide between the Northeast and the South remains intact. There is not another truly Southern state primary again until Super Tuesday, when Georgia and Virginia primaries are held concurrently with 5 other primaries and 3 caucuses on March 6th.
Romney is projected to perform well in the coming races, but his advantage is highly contingent on what happens with the rest of the candidates. The worst thing that could happen to Romney is for Santorum to either drop out early, or for Santorum’s supporters to flock to Gingrich. Even in this worst-case scenario, several states would still be easily carried by Romney (like Maine and Michigan).
In any case, the race has avoided becoming too boring. While it won’t help Romney’s chances in the general election if his opponents continue battering him in debates and campaign ads, it might have been worse for Romney to have simply swept the nomination process. At least now Republicans can feel like the nomination wasn’t bought outright.