Not Romney wins South Carolina

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Thanks to Sarah Palin, Not Romney won South Carolina by giving Newt Gingrich a plurality of the vote.

Newt Gingrich's 1st place finish in South Carolina halted Mitt Romney's winning streak of one and deflated the notion that Romney is inevitably going to be the nominee.

Romney's best assets in this race were his inevitability, his money, and his hair. He's still got the last two, but the first one is badly depleted. There's a certain sort of Republican: They're looking for the front-runner, ready to jump aboard his bandwagon. It's important to them to be on the winning team as soon as possible. Some may be hoping for federal appointments, anything from White House intern to federal district judge.

It appears that Romney pushed hard right before and after Iowa to lock in as many endorsers as he could, pointing to his money and organization, already in place in key states. Santorum may have finished first by a few votes, but Santorum had put everything he had into Iowa. Gingrich didn't seem to be thinking beyond the next state. Romney will win South Carolina, the pitch went, by a big margin, and if everyone else but Ron Paul didn't drop out then, they would yield to the inevitable after Florida 10 days later.

What disrupted that momentum was the fact that most conservative Republicans don't trust Romney, and they wanted to stop him. The turning point for South Carolina may have been Tuesday, January 17, 2012, on the Hannity show when Sarah Palin identified how they could do that:

If I had to vote in South Carolina, in order to keep this thing going, I'd vote for Newt, and I would want this to continue, more debates, more vetting of candidates, because we know the mistake made in our country four years ago was having a candidate that was not vetted, to the degree that he should have been so that we knew what his associations and his pals represented and what went into his thinking, the shaping of who our president today is.

(When I first heard this clip, I thought Palin had begun to criticize the process that led to the nomination of her running mate, John McCain, and maybe she was headed there and caught herself. Barack Obama got plenty of vetting -- his nomination battle didn't end until June; McCain had his nomination clinched in March, thanks to winner-take-all primaries in which he won slim pluralities, and buyers' remorse quickly set in.)

You'll recall that in 2008 some national talk show hosts tried to get Republicans to vote strategically on Tsunami Tuesday to stop John McCain. The mistake they made was pushing Romney based on national polling showing him in second, ignoring the individual state polls, which had Huckabee a close second to McCain in Oklahoma and several other states.

This time around, only one state was voting, and there was a clear second place candidate, Gingrich, who was close enough to have a chance to pass Romney. If you run your mouse along the RealClearPolitics graph of South Carolina polls, there's an inflection point: Beginning on January 18, the day after Palin's comments aired, Newt's numbers began to rise. Rasmussen had Gingrich at 21% on Monday and at 33% on Wednesday.

The shift to Newt began well before his Thursday evening confrontation with CNN's John King over Mrs. Newt II's comments on ABC. Despite the wishful thinking of the adultery-based community, Newt's win in South Carolina is not a rebuke to his aggrieved second wife. I'm surprised no pollster thought to ask if their support for Newt was mainly a vote to stop Romney.

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3 Comments

Timothy said:

For multiple reasons, I have trouble believing that Palin's suggestion carried that much effect. If you look at all the polls from the 18th and the few days surrounding it, you'll see that Newt shot up not only in South Carolina but also nationally. The surge began on January 17, the day after Newt's extremely popular debate performance, which was highly praised by Rush Limbaugh (http://www.rushlimbaugh.com/daily/2012/01/17/debate_proves_conservatism_sells) and others. According to one South Carolina poll I read, more than 50% of those polled had watched at least one of the two debates of last week, which suggests that Newt's performance in that debate may have effected his support much more strongly in South Carolina than nationally.

It is also relevant to point out that something very strange happened right after this debate: On Drudge's "who won the debate" poll, Gingrich actually came in first. Normally Ron Paul wins this kind of thing by about 40% (presumably largely due to supporters who haven't actually watched the debate but go around to as many computers as they can get their hands on to vote for him as many times as possible), but Gingrich edged him out by a few points. Also, in Drudge's shortly following "whom will you vote for" poll, Paul only beat Gingrich by a few percentage points, with Mitt Romney much lower. And these are national! I think it was debate performance, not Palin's suggestion, that propelled Newt to this surprising surge.

Graychin said:

Were you being facetious, or do you really believe that the voters of South Carolina were waiting for Sarah Palin to tell them who to vote for?  Give SC voters a little more credit than that.

Or maybe it was Chuck Norris' endorsement!

My analysis: Newt has a perfect understanding of the id of the Republican voters.  He isn't appealing to their minds, but to their emotions - some of which are dark and angry.  

Romney has been running for president for six years now, but just can't close the deal.  Not Romney will win the nomination.

Waiting for Palin to tell them? No. But I do think Not Romney conservatives in South Carolina were waiting for some clue about how to vote to prevent a Romney win with a tiny plurality against a split field, and she was the first prominent voice to suggest a tactical vote for Gingrich.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on January 22, 2012 12:27 AM.

International Western Swing: The Swinging Hayriders was the previous entry in this blog.

Flat February: No need to head for the exits is the next entry in this blog.

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