In a stunning two-week turnaround, final figures from the Republican primary election that took place overnight, AEDT, show former House Speaker Newt Gingrich trouncing purported frontrunner, Mitt Romney, recording about 41% of votes cast to 28% for Romney.
Former Congressman — and ultimate winner in Iowa — Rick Santorum was next, with 17%, and libertarian Ron Paul bringing up the rear on 13%.
Having finished a distant third in both New Hampshire and Iowa, this contest was something of a make-or-break for Gingrich; he was expected to poll more strongly — or top the field — in South Carolina, but the strength of his win in that state’s primary is a bolt from the blue.
It comes at the end of a horror fortnight for Romney; the former Massachusetts governor had fanned the flames of expectation that his campaign would clinch a win in this third of three Republican primaries thus far to make it “three in a row.”
But he didn’t win in Iowa at all; a recount there showed religious conservative Santorum clinching that state’s vote by 34 votes; he won in New Hampshire, of course, which is where he lives anyway, and now has been thumped in South Carolina.
Compounding the woes of the Romney campaign is the fact that serious questions are now being widely asked about his record in business, and about eye-raising and highly disturbing stories beginning to emerge from his record as a senior leadership figure in his Mormon church.
The latter of these considerations is already a latent source of disquiet to many in the Republican Party, and to independents and Democrats that whoever ultimately secures the Republican nomination must win over if Barack Obama is to be defeated in presidential elections in November.
Far from “clinching the nomination” or being “unstoppable” after three state primaries, the South Carolina result stamps a serious question mark on the viability of Mitt Romney as a presidential candidate, and provides Gingrich with much-needed momentum as the Republican nominating contest moves to another southern state — Florida — in a little over a week.
Florida, like South Carolina, is another state where Gingrich can be expected to poll well in Republican primary votes, and quite feasibly win; should he do so, it will be Gingrich with a head of steam moving towards “Super Tuesday” a few weeks later, and Romney scrambling to stay afloat.
From a Romney perspective, it didn’t have to be like this so soon: rolling in money, resources and endorsements from the Republican establishment, he has ruthlessly attacked Gingrich with negative political advertising, which initially drove Gingrich from the top of the pack to third place.
Now — as Gingrich responds with advertising material of his own, focused on the questions surrounding Romney’s past in religion and in business — coupled with stellar performances in the most recent candidates’ debates — Romney has received a dose of his own medicine, and his numbers have sagged accordingly.
One win in one primary, under the system used to nominate presidential candidates in the US, does not win the battle.
Indeed, all three of Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum are sitting on one win apiece after three outings.
But what might have been viewed as a lay-down misere for Romney as recently as a week ago is now an open, serious contest.
We will of course continue to monitor the happenings in the Republican primary race; after all, events in the USA have a direct influence on so many issues that affect us here in Australia.
This column has previously made it very clear that it endorses Newt Gingrich to secure the nomination of the Republican Party to stand against Barack Obama in November’s US presidential election, and to win the Presidency at that election.
That endorsement stands, and it is to be hoped that the Gingrich campaign takes heart and courage from the excellent performance it recorded in South Carolina overnight.
Florida comes next, and as America’s fourth-largest state, is a much bigger prize. A win there — especially on the scale of the one achieved in South Carolina — and Gingrich will be well on his way.