One week ago, Mitt Romney had a lead of about 20 percentage points in both the national polls and the South Carolina polls. He had won both of the two states that had already voted. He was piling up endorsements from the Republican kingmakers, and he was sitting on a massive war chest. In short, he had already locked up the nomination.
Now, things look very different. Not only did Romney lose South Carolina, he lost big: 40% to 28%. In other news this week, Iowa announced that now that the final results are in, Rick Santorum actually won that state.
So, what does this all mean? It probably means very little in the long run. Romney is still likely to win the nomination.
The next state to vote is Florida, on Tuesday, January 31. Florida, unlike the previous states, has an expensive media market. That makes Romney’s large money advantage significant.
Also, beginning last night, the media has embarked on an “all Newt, all the time” diet. I have trouble believing that that is a good thing for someone like Newt Gingrich. He’s kind of like chocolate for Republicans. It is nice to indulge every once in awhile. You might even want to make it part of your regular routine. But if you eat all chocolate all the time, you’re going to start feeling very ill eventually.
Florida Republicans are about to be barraged with references to Newt’s personal problems (for example, the claim by his ex-wife that he proposed an open marriage). There are also connections between Gingrich and Freddie Mac that Floridians can expect to hear about.
So, the result in South Carolina should be concerning to Romney. The exit polls that suggest South Carolinians believe that Gingrich would be more likely than Romney to beat Obama should be particularly concerning. However, Romney is still the likely nominee. He probably just has to stay the course and wait for the public to OD on Gingrich.
However, if Gingrich were to win Florida, then Romney should be very worried.