Mitt Romney was never going to win South Carolina. Yes, I know polling had him ahead for a short time after Iowa and New Hampshire when it looked like Newt was done (again). South Carolina is a part of the Bible belt and a Mormon is not going to do well in a Republican primary when there are other options.
Newt, as flawed as he is, benefited from conservative backlash at the media for the release of Marianne Gingrich’s interview just days before the South Carolina vote. We saw the same kind of bounce of support for Herman Cain in the initial coverage of his alleged harassment issues. Conservatives know there is a media bias, and if you are being personally attacked in the media, then you must be ok.
All this to say that as remote a possibility as even I thought it was to have three different winners after the first three contests, that’s exactly where we are.
Florida is Romney’s to lose. It’s a big, expensive state, which has had absentee ballots out for almost three weeks and Romney has been the only candidate with a broad presence there. It could be his firewall.
However, if Newt’s momentum coming out of South Carolina translates to a Florida victory, then it’s probably going to take until Super Tuesday (March 6) to settle this thing. Of course, it could take until April 3, when Texas holds it’s primary, or even until April 24th when New York and Pennsylvania hold theirs. I don’t think it’s going to go all the way until California’s primary in early June. The longer it goes, the more likely that Newt implodes.
Following Florida, Romney probably does better than Newt in the Nevada and Colorado caucuses and the Arizona and Michigan primaries. Even if Newt hangs in there, Super Tuesday will be tough, because he isn’t even on the ballot in one of the larger states that day (Virginia).
Here’s how I see Super Tuesday breaking down, if Newt is still actively campaigning:
Newt probably wins Alaska, Georgia, Oklahoma and Tennessee – that’s 204 delegates.
Romney takes Idaho, Massachusetts, North Dakota, Ohio, Vermont, Virginia and Wyoming – that’s 262 delegates.
While Romney may want to see this thing buttoned down and done in the next couple weeks, he is by no means in trouble if he loses Florida. His true firewall is April 24, where he will sweep New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Delaware and Rhode Island.
No need to panic, just keep that steady, methodical machine going and don’t stray from the message of free enterprise and economic freedom. It worked for Reagan.