The focus of the 2012 Republican presidential primary shifted from South Carolina to Florida, following what proved to be a very bad week for Mitt Romney. Whereas just a week ago the nomination of the former Massachusetts governor was all but certain, a last minute rise by former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich has thrown the race into the tossup category, with Gingrich winning South Carolina and former US Senator Rick Santorum now being declared winner of Iowa.
Following the New Hampshire primary on 10 January, Romney had a double-digit lead in South Carolina. However, with a series of attacks on his business record, poor debate performances, the annulment of his victory in the Iowa caucuses, and a surge in Gingrich’s popularity, Romney’s edge eroded. Not to mention there are now three primary winners with Santorum taking Iowa, Romney in New Hampshire, and Gingrich in South Carolina. According to Dick Morris, political analyst and former Bill Clinton advisor, the race is now anyone’s game… well, anyone but Ron Paul’s. He said, “It is entirely possible that you have a functional three-way tie here. Because you have one guy who’s in last place moving up and two guys above him are moving down”.
The Romney campaign has been working to shake off accusations that he’s out of touch and that he destroyed jobs as the head of Bain Capital, his private equity firm. This has led to calls for him to release his tax records, about which he was asked in Thursday’s debate, and for which he gave an unpopular response. During the debate, he declared, “Every time we release things drip-by-drip, the Democrats go out with another array of attacks”.
Gingrich, however, hasn’t been without scrutiny, some of it concerning his record as Speaker of the House and the rest of it about his private life. However, people perceive him as having handled the negative press much better, such as in his response to questions about recent allegations that he asked his second wife for an open marriage. He told CNN’s John King, the debate moderator, “I think the destructive, vicious, and negative nature of much of the news media makes it harder to govern this country, harder to attract people to run for office, and I’m appalled that you would open a debate with a question like that”.
Many credit Gingrich’s debate performance with making the difference in South Carolina, with many voters saying that delectability is the most important quality they are looking for, and they think that Newt Gingrich is the candidate who can best beat Obama. They also seem undeterred by his past personal proclivities. Supporter Jan Broadhurst said that it was in the past and she has moved on, applauding him for taking on the “liberal media”, saying, “It doesn’t matter. Part of being a Christian is forgiveness, he’s asked for forgiveness, he should be given the benefit”.
After weeks and even months of expecting Mitt Romney to come out on top, many are concerned about Gingrich’s recent rise, particularly Republican politicians such as South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, Virginia Governor Bob McDonell, and former New Hampshire governor and US Senator John Sununu, all of whom campaigned for Romney in South Carolina. Sununu told VOR that Gingrich is simply unqualified to be president, saying, “Newt Gingrich was thrown out as speaker of the house by his own leadership. There’s no stronger condemnation of his lack of performance as speaker than the fact that his own people got rid of him”. Sununu added that the accusations about Romney’s business history and about releasing his tax returns were unfair, saying, “Put it in context. Are you going to be surprised that he turns out to be rich?” However, despite the South Carolina results, Sununu was insistent in his support, noting that Romney’s campaign is set up for the long run. For his part, Mitt Romney, feeling the heat, is fighting back, taking on new frontrunner Gingrich for what he calls illegal lobbying after he left the speaker’s office. At a campaign stop in Tampa, Florida, he said, “If you’re working for a company, and, then, you’re speaking with Congressmen in a way that would help that company, that’s lobbying”.
Although his win in South Carolina certainly buoyed up Gingrich, Dick Morris told VOR that everything would change in Florida. Although Gingrich leads by several points now, it’s a large state, there’s no certainty, with more than a week to go before Florida’s primary. Morris said, “Florida’s the first time that money becomes important. Until now, [they] were running in tiny states and Florida is very, very expensive”. Whilst many in the Republican Party have expressed fear that the protracted battle is helping President Barack Obama in his bid for re-election, Morris expressed the opposite view. In a conversation with Rick Santorum and VOR, he claimed that the attention on the GOP race is actually good for the Republican Party, saying, “The US campaign trail’s been a wild ride, as Newt Gingrich, who weeks ago wasn’t even supposed to be in contention, won South Carolina. Now, America’s looking ahead to the Florida primary, a 50-delegate contest, in one of the most expensive campaign states in the country”.
24 January 2012
Voice of Russia World Service