Conservative voters could end up making Florida Mitt Romney’s Waterloo — or not.
Gingrich’s come-from-behind blowout victory in South Carolina has some wondering if the game is up for the former Massachusetts governor and others questioning a key facet of his campaign – his electability.
Washington Post PostPartisan
blogger Jonathan Capehart’s prediction in December that “Florida could be Mitt Romney’s Waterloo” is now in “clearer focus.”
Capehart notes that exit polls showed that 38 percent of South Carolina voters who said they were looking for a “true conservative” went for the former speaker of the House and just 2 percent went for Romney. Gingrich also scored well with Evangelicals and those who had reservations about Romney.
“This doesn’t bode well for his effort in the Sunshine State,” Capehart wrote. “New and reliable polls will be unveiled leading up to the Jan. 31 primary, but might I remind you that an NBC News-Marist Poll from last month showed that Romney was not conservative enough for Florida.
“Specifically, while 70 percent of likely Florida Republican primary voters describe themselves as conservative, 66 percent of likely Florida Republican primary voters don’t think Romney is a conservative. Failure to win Florida could mean eventual failure to win the nomination.”
In an editorial, The Wall Street Journal
also went to the numbers, noting that Gingrich “routed Mr. Romney on what had been the former Massachusetts governor's greatest strength — electability. Some 45 percent of voters in the exit poll said defeating President Obama was the candidate trait that mattered most, and they went for Mr. Gingrich over Mr. Romney, 51 percent to 37 percent.”
The Weekly Standard’s
Fred Barnes called Romney’s defeat in South Carolina “humiliating” and said he does not have a winning idea.
“Voters in South Carolina rallied to Gingrich because his campaign is based on a big idea: He’ll crush Obama in debates and win the White House. … A big idea and passion trump experience. Voters didn’t elect Ronald Reagan because he’d been governor of California. They chose him over President Carter in 1980 because he had a daring plan for reviving the economy and was committed to rolling back Soviet communism.”
Romney’s focus on his business experience at Bain Capital doesn’t “produce enthusiasm or momentum.”
“Unless he changes his message, Romney will be lucky to win the GOP nomination,” Barnes concluded. “And he’ll fail to inspire an enthusiastic following in the general election against Obama.”
However, it’s too early to count Romney out, says University of Virginia’s Larry Sabato.
“It's usually wrong to designate one state and say it's the alpha-and-omega,” U.Va’s Center for Politics director said. “Romney starts out suddenly well behind Gingrich in Florida. But a week is a long time, as we have seen already, and polls change. Maybe Romney can come back and win Florida. If he doesn't, it's his Waterloo only if he chooses to throw in the towel.”
Sabato said Gingrich has yet to prove he can win when the contest moves to multiple campaigns operating in many states simultaneously, which is what the battlefield becomes in February and March.
After Florida’s Jan. 31 primary, there will 18 contests in a month’s time, culminating with the March 6 Super Tuesday when 10 of those contests will be held, including Virginia’s primary that Gingrich failed to qualify for.
Sabato also said that Republicans facing re-election in the fall may line up against Gingrich, fearing a fall drubbing should Gingrich head the ticket.
“Almost all national surveys show Gingrich losing the swing states to Obama,” he said. “Again, polls can change but GOP officeholders are very nervous right now.”
The Wall Street Journal also picked up on that theme.
“As for the GOP establishment, such as it still is, Mr. Gingrich's re-emergence is likely to cause a panic attack,” the paper wrote. “They don't believe he is electable. Our advice would be to relax and let the voters decide. If Mr. Romney can't marshal the wit and nerve to defeat the speaker, then he isn't likely to defeat Mr. Obama.”
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