Gingrich scores big win in South Carolina. How bad is it for Romney?

Experts comment on the results of SC primary election.

Eric Ostermeier, Research Associate, Center for the Study of Politics and Governance, University of Minnesota

Newt Gingrich’s win in South Carolina on Saturday means an unprecedented three different Republican candidates in the modern political era have won the Iowa caucuses (Rick Santorum), the New Hampshire primary (Mitt Romney), and the South Carolina primary (Gingrich).

Gingrich’s win certainly blunts the momentum Romney was enjoying up until one week ago and will increase the attention of voters nationwide on the two upcoming debates held in Florida this week.

However, Romney retains both significant financial as well as geographic advantages over Gingrich in the next five primary and caucus contests in Florida, Maine, Nevada, Colorado, and Minnesota.

Additionally, a bigger piece of the anti-Romney vote will be won by Ron Paul in the Maine, Nevada, Colorado, and Minnesota caucuses, which presents additional challenges for Gingrich.

David McCuan, Assistant Professor of Political Science, Sonoma State University

Ok, so the GOP race has completely changed. And irony in politics is pretty amazing.

Romney was up by 20 points less than a week ago and the nomination was in hands. Now? All bets are off.

Romney has money and resources. Newt has momentum. You can’t beat Big Mo’ BUT…there are big, HUGE problems with Newt as the GOP nominee – IF he is the nominee.

Romney and his staff have imploded not just with the South Carolina results, but with the tax and finance issues and how Romney has handled himself during the debates. They have acted like amateurs, unprepared for releasing critical financial records. These requests are not unexpected or unknown, but the internal dynamics of the Romney campaign have been such that utter chaos has reigned, and they are responding to Newt’s campaign, not attacking or directing themselves towards his rhetoric. Romney will have to at least announce a date to release his tax records BEFORE Monday night’s debate.

You can view today’s results as a ‘new day’ for Newt, but really this GOP race is up in the air, with the Big Mo’ behind Newt as we go to a major state (Florida, 27 Electoral Votes in November) followed by Nevada, then a series of caucus states.

What looked like a race looked up and over on 31 January is now a two-person race that lasts until the “Super Tuesday” contests in early March.

A few additional details about tonight:

It was 15 years ago today that Newt Gingrich was reprimanded by his House colleagues as Speaker. What a twist of irony.

Tonight’s exit polls demonstrated many folks identifying themselves as “conservatives” and also making their voting decision t- owards Gingrich for the most part – in only the last 48 hours. That makes the last Thursday debate (#17!) was HUGE for many Palmetto State voters.

Florida becomes the BIG DECIDER in this election as it will break the 1-1-1 tie – Santorum in Iowa; Romney in New Hampshire; Newt in South Carolina.

More irony – the GOP Establishment wants Romney. Last weekend, Christian conservative elites threw their support behind Santorum. Tonight? The grassroots, anti-establishment GOP voter wants Newt.

That makes the debates & the SuperPACs absolutely critical to defining the nature of the narrative going forward.

Interesting ironic number from the exit polls as well from South Carolina – voters in SC saw Newt as ‘more electable’ than Romney. This is the FIRST time this has happened. Yet, Newt’s national negative poll numbers (disapproval numbers) are double his national approval numbers.

That makes for a very interesting race if Newt is the GOP nominee against President Obama.

Steven Greene, Associate Professor of Political Science, North Carolina State University

Well, the consensus here in America seems to be that Gingrich’s rather sizable win has fairly dramatically shaken up the race. What, just a week ago, was seen as a minor hurdle on Romney’s near-inevitable cruise to victory now seems to have given us a clear two-man race that may take a good while yet to sort out. It is also clear, that Gingrich’s strong performance in two South Carolina debates this week proved crucial in him coming from well behind in the polls to trounce Romney on Saturday’s Primary election day. Many Republican voters seem to think he has the best chance to beat Obama, though most experts believe otherwise. Going forward, one still has to give Romney the clear advantage given his huge advantages in money, organization, and support from the Republican establishment.

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