Not too long ago I speculated on the possibility that Newt Gingrich might be able to deliver an early knockout to Mitt Romney by winning Iowa, South Carolina, and Florida, and running a strong second in New Hampshire. At that time Newt led Rpmney by wide margins in all but New Hampshire. Then the Romney money and organization targeted Gingrich with ferocity, dumping millions in negative ads on him in Iowa. Gingrich, having no money to respond, cried foul. But the Romney assault worked. Gingrich dropped like a stone in Iowa, allowing Romney to come in and steal a victory. Romney is now poised to win New Hampshire by a wide margin (David Paleologos over at Suffolk has Romney at 40%, Paul at 17%, Santorum at 11%, Gingrich at 9%, Huntsman at 8%, Perry at 1%), and is so sure of victory there that he has allowed himself time off from N.H. to campaign in South Carolina. Ahh yes South Carolina.
South Carolina, according to the Romney skeptics, is where the anti Romney firewall would be built. But it sure looks like that firewall is crumbling. The latest polling from South Carolina shows Romney at 37%, Rick Santorum at 19%, Newt Gingrich at 18%, (down from 43%), Ron Paul is at 12%, and jogging Rick Perry is at 5%. Romney has begun spending real money in South Carolina, along with rolling out endorsements from Governor Niki Haley and John McCain, who both campaigned with him this week in S.C. Romney’s ad on the NLRB and Boeing in South Carolina is an effective appeal in South Carolina, and shows just how far ahead of the Republican pack Romney is strategically.
Another factor that needs to be considered is how much Ron Paul has helped Mitt Romney throughout this process. Dr. Paul joined Romney in tearing down Newt Gingrich in Iowa, unveiling some pretty tough ads. He is now attacking the newest Republican “not Mitt” of the month, Rick Santorum, with another rough ad. Romney can just sit back and watch, comfortable in seeing the Paul numbers rise at the expense of Gingrich and Santorum.
So who can stop the Romney Express? Every time I read a story about Jon Huntsman being that person I simply laugh in amazement. This guy does not compete in Iowa, throws everything into New Hampshire, where he is polling in single digits, and is currently polling at 1% in South Carolina. He received the endorsement of the Boston Globe, which should cost him a few percentage points in a Republican primary. Huntsman is the candidate with a muddled message, no national organization, no support among Republicans, and yet gets glowing press as a potential alternative to Romney. It is a joke, and he will be joining Michelle Bachmann right after he gets his ass kicked in New Hampshire. Which brings us to the “running man” Rick Perry, who, despite the difficulty, keeps making a bigger ass of himself with each passing day. Perry went home to reassess after his Iowa debacle, went jogging, and decided to make a stand in South Carolina. I guess that is better than making a stand in New Hampshire, where he is at 1%. At least in South Carolina he is at 5%. After the South Carolina primary Perry’s campaign staff should take away his jogging shoes.
So it is up to either Santorum or Gingrich, neither of whom has the money or organization to compete. If either one even had a sliver of a chance it would have to be as the only conservative alternative to Romney, and even at that I doubt it. But Gingrich’s description of Santorum as a “junior partner” should put any thought of uniting to stop Romney to rest. Gingrich’s massive ego will not allow him to step aside in favor of Santorum, despite his apparent distaste for Romney.
Romney’s superior management skills are on display for all to see in this primary season. It will be substantially different in the general, where Romney will not be facing an opponent determined to shred himself. But Romney deserves credit for devising a solid campaign plan, and for having the discipline to stick to it. He also gets campaign kudos for making plan changes on the fly that were necessary to derail each Republican “not Mitt” of the month. Frankly speaking he is the only Republican with a chance in November.