Now that Newt Gingrich has upended the Republican presidential campaign’s dynamic with his stirring upset victory in South Carolina, he and front-runner Mitt Romney face major tests in Florida.
In the Sunshine State, which holds its primary Jan. 31, Gingrich will attempt to prove he’s not just a one-state wonder, and Romney will attempt to restore his strength as front-runner, USA Today reports.
Voters are looking for someone who will battle, says Terry Holt, who worked on President George W. Bush’s 2004 campaign.
"There's an anger and frustration among Republicans that the successful candidate will have to find a way to channel," Holt told Politico. Gingrich has done that, "and the question now is whether he can transform it into a legitimate challenge to the front-runner."
Romney’s campaign seems better suited to Florida and its many major media markets than smaller states. Money and organization represent his campaign’s key advantages. He and his super PAC have been running ads in Florida for weeks.
“We are being bombarded with Romney commercials," April Schiff, a Florida Republican strategist who is neutral in the race, told USA Today. But Romney’s ads haven’t been decisive, she says. Some GOP voters "still feel we could do better in terms of choices. There's no shining star in the field."
Florida’s economic woes, particularly in the housing sector, will test whether super-rich Romney "can show he's able to connect to the real world," Schiff said. "There is a perception that he doesn't live in the same world that everyone else does."
Gingrich has to deal with some problems in his own background. But he has bonded with voters better than Romney and attracted strong grass-roots support, Schiff said.
The Romney-Gingrich fight reminds star Republican strategist Ed Rollins of the 1976 contest between President Gerald Ford and challenger Ronald Reagan.
"There is an angry mood, and Newt captures that anger, and to a certain extent Romney just isn't as strong a candidate . . . as people thought he might be," Rollins told USA Today.
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