Osburn: Gingrich’s wins a shocker in South CarolinaWritten by Ben Osburn | | firstname.lastname@example.org
In my short time of observing electoral politics, I’ve learned a few things. The most important being that when it comes to elections, anything can happen. The past several weeks have been a prime example. Just a short time ago, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney had all the momentum. A theatrical win in Iowa, a landslide victory in New Hampshire, and a good-sized lead in South Carolina polls meant a first class ticket to Tampa, (this year’s G.O.P. convention site) for Romney. Not so fast! According to a statement released by the Iowa Republican Party just hours before the polls opened in South Carolina, Rick Santorum won. The news was confirmed, ultimately denying Romney his historical consecutive wins in Iowa and New Hampshire. Within the course of days, Romney’s lead in South Carolina evaporated and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich ran away with the state. For the first time in G.O.P. history, three different people won the first three contests. Suddenly, we’ve got a race.
South Carolina held their primary on January 21, a Saturday. This was largely in part due to Florida’s desire to move its primary to January, from its original February date. Florida’s decision to do so lead to South Carolina pushing their primary up too. Both South Carolina and Florida were penalized by the RNC for doing this; half of their delegates have been stripped. South Carolina has historically been accurate in predicting the G.O.P. nominee. Every year since 1980 the state has successfully chosen the Republican candidate. Politically, South Carolina tends to be more conservative. The state is a hotbed for Tea Party activity. According to exit polls, nearly a third of primary voters strongly supported the Tea Party. First term governor Nikki Haley and four freshmen congressmen were part of the movement. Evangelicals also represent a large part of the G.O.P. support, around 65 percent.
Gingrich’s win provided a huge boost to his campaign, gaining him 23 delegates to a total of 26. The win also in some ways represented a shift in G.O.P. opinion towards the former speaker. Not surprisingly, the economy was the issue that most voters were concerned about, sixty three percent of the voters said so. Of that percentage, forty percent chose Gingrich and thirty two percent chose Romney. Of the voters that chose said that beating Obama was the most important candidate quality, fifty one percent chose Gingrich to Romney’s thirty seven. This is a shift from both Iowa and New Hampshire. Gingrich also won support from tea partiers, evangelicals, and married voters.
The latter is an interesting statistic, given Gingrich’s recent situation involving his ex wife, Marianne. In an ABC interview released just two days before the primary, Marianne had divulged revealing information about her relationship with Newt. In the interview, she had stated that the former speaker requested an open marriage, while seeing former staffer and current wife Callista. She also stated that Newt did not have the moral character to be president and “has answers to give,” if he does. Gingrich faces further character attacks in reference to his first wife Jackie, whom he divorced while undergoing treatment for multiple sclerosis. However controversial it may be, Gingrich was able to battle through the attacks in debate. The two debates hosed before the primary were central reasons why Gingrich surged in the final days before the election. During a CNN debate when asked to comment on the allegations against him. Newt responded that the news was negative natured and was “appalled,” that CNN would begin a debate on such a topic. He received a standing ovation and results clearly show that voters were not put-off by the issue.
Romney’s fall from grace can be contributed to two main reasons. One is his inability to connect with middle class voters. Many South Carolina voters view Romney as being out of touch with middle class Americans. The attacks on his checkered past at Bain Capital by the Gingrich campaign contributed to this. Until recently, Romney has been very skeptical in releasing his income tax returns, something that Gingrich has done already. Shortly after the primary the campaign gave into the pressure and made the decision to release two years worth of tax returns. In an anti- establishment state, Romney was viewed as the establishment candidate. Romney also lost in the grassroots battle. Gingrich had a groundswell of grassroots support that canvassed on his behalf, particularly in rural areas.
Rick Santorum and Ron Paul finished 3rd and 4th consecutively. The Santorum campaign did not do as well with evangelicals as had hoped. Santorum won an endorsement from 150 evangelical leaders throughout the country a week before the primary. However, this momentum did not carry to South Carolina, nor did his recent Iowa win. He will move on to Florida, with higher expectations.
Texas congressmen Ron Paul finished just a few percentage points behind Santorum for fourth place. Paul will not canvass in Florida, a state that consists of a diverse array of Republicans. He will focus on the upcoming caucus dates like Nevada and Minnesota.
With both Rick Perry and Jon Huntsman out of the race, the field is narrowed to four. The question going into Florida is how money will factor in for the candidates. Florida is expensive to campaign in and requires a broad coalition of support to win. Romney has the most campaign cash by far, but it remains to be seen what it will do for him. If Gingrich pulls off the win then the Romney campaign is in trouble and vice versa.
Columnist Benjamin Osburn is a graduate student in political science at the University of Toledo. Email him at email@example.com.