A surging Newt Gingrich has won the South Carolina primary. It’s a result that seemed unthinkable ten days ago when he was being berated by conservative commentators like Rush Limbaugh for his attacks on Romney’s business dealings. Gingrich used the two debates in the final days to change the election’s narrative and sail to victory.
Gingrich’s South Carolina win turns the entire Republican nomination process on its head. Just days ago, the national media was talking about Mitt Romney sweeping the first three contests, but after tonight’s win for Gingrich, three different candidates have won the first three states. Now Gingrich has momentum headed into Florida, and the race is sure to last much longer and be more contentious than Mitt Romney ever hoped.
There are two noticeable differences between the South Carolina primary and the Iowa Caucuses that helped Gingrich find success in South Carolina. First, there were no major debates held in the last 18 days in Iowa, while two debates were held in the final week before South Carolinians went to the polls. Second, Newt Gingrich wasn’t the only candidate being hammered by negative TV ads in South Carolina like he was in Iowa.
The two debates that occurred in the final days before the South Carolina primary helped Gingrich immensely. In Myrtle Beach on Monday, Gingrich dazzled the audience and used the event to provide his campaign a spark. That debate was also one of Mitt Romney’s worst ever. After Monday’s Fox News debate, Romney’s aura of invincibility evaporated.
The CNN debate in Charleston the following Thursday also played a critical role in Gingrich’s campaign in the state. While Gingrich wasn’t nearly as good as he was on Monday, he used the debate to inoculate himself from the controversial interview his ex-wife gave to ABC News and the Washington Post. The story may continue to haunt Gingrich, but for the time being, he was able to take the focus off of himself by castigating the media for such a personal attack in the final hours before people vote.
The other big difference in South Carolina that ultimately helped Gingrich was the uncertainty of the race. After Rick Santorum won Iowa, the Romney campaign, the Romney Super PAC, and Ron Paul’s campaign saw Santorum as a threat and thus began running negative ads against him. While the Romney effort continued to run some ads against Gingrich, it seems as if they took their eye off of Gingrich. In Iowa, every attack ad on TV was aimed at Gingrich. In South Carolina, Gingrich, Romney, and Santorum were all being attacked.
The knock on Gingrich has been that his campaign lacked the ability to build ground organization in any of the early states. That was obviously the case in Iowa and New Hampshire where he finished a disappointing fourth and fifth place. However, being for the neighboring state of Georgia, he was able to build a real grassroots effort in South Carolina, which may be why his standing in the polls never really dipped when the negative ads began to run. Even still, if anyone deserves the credit for Gingrich’s South Carolina win it’s the candidate himself and his ability to debate.
Photo by Dave Davidson – Prezography.com
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