I've been saying consistently the Mitt Romney is a sure bet for the Republican nomination. After Newt Gingrich's dominating performance in South Carolina this weekend, I'm now not so sure.
Romney has a very, very serious problem on his hands as Gingrich's portrayal of him as an out of touch elite is resonating with voters in a big way. The numbers are looking increasingly worse for Romney with the analysis showing voters believe Gingrich is better equipped to beat Obama in the general (voters favored Gingrich over Romney by a 14-point margin, 51-37 percent).
Amazingly, as loathsome as Gingrich is, he is actually turning out to be the charismatic candidate - an amazing feat that underlines just how weak the GOP field is.
Gingrich is playing to the Conservative base using the Southern strategy (thinly veiled racism) at every turn. He refers to Obama as the 'foodstamp' President and a radical. Gingrich will run an 'American' campaign as opposed to Obama's 'foreign' one. It's a role he is entirely comfortable playing, and one that Romney can never adopt successfully. As Bob Cesca writes:
This grueling primary may not end anytime soon if other southern states continue to be as receptive to Newt Gingrich's howling as South Carolina was. Mitt Romney may adopt the same strategy, however it won't come off as genuine to those on the left, right, or middle. It's already well-established that Newt Gingrich is a raging prick, but Mitt Romney simply isn't believable.
The Democrats will be positively giddy with excitement at the prospect of Gingrich winning the nomination. General elections are won by taking the center, and Gingrich simply won't be able to appeal to swing voters like Romney can. Gingrich may be able to fire up the Reagan conservatives, but his militancy on foreign policy and economics isolates him from moderates. To boot, his questionable moral character has the religious Right feeling uneasy and they might not come out in force either. In short, Gingrich is too controversial to win the general election, and the GOP knows it and so do the Democrats.
The problem is, Republican voters don't, and they may just propel Gingrich onto the national stage where he will be humiliated by the President.