Has there ever been a more tumultous 24 hours in a Presidential race than what we just went through? From Mitt Romney flubbing the issue of releasing his tax returns to the spectacle of Newt Gingrich’s second wife alleging he sought an “open” relationship,to Rick Santorum being declared the winner of the Iowa Caucuses, this has been one wild ride. Gingrich came into South Carolina having blown a substantial lead here, watching as Romney not only overtook him but built a good sized lead of his own. But Gingrich flew into South Carolina like a hurricane, determined to go negative in a big way on Romney. Gingrich had to withstand howls of protest from the Republican establishment, many of whom demanded that he simply cede the race to Romney. But Newt blasted away, first exploiting the “Bain” issue, and now masterfully exploiting the issue of releasing tax returns. Romney’s flubbed and cleary uncomfortable responses to these questions in the last debate drew boos from the crowd. Gingrich’s response to the first question of the debate, on his second wife’s allegations, drew two standing ovations from that same crowd. Romney had a real opportunity here in South Carolina to deliver a knockout blow to Gingrich. But after tonight the Republican frontrunner will have won only one of the first three contests, and will be substantially marked up. My predictions for today in South Carolina:
1) Newt Gingrich. Not a Newt fan, but you have to give him some credit for the fight he displayed here. He has Romney reeling.
2) Mitt Romney. His race to win last week, and his super organized, button downed campaign let it slip away. My first failing grade to the Romney organization. After Santorum was declared the real winner in Iowa a loss here today will reinvigorate both Gingrich and the Republican doubters, and give the conservative wing some real hope that Romney can be stopped.
3) Ron Paul. Close call here, and essentially a coin flip. I think the Gingrich surge pushes Santorum to the bottom of the pile.
4) Rick Santorum. A pretty good last debate for Santorum, who targeted Romney quite effectively. He did pick up the win in Iowa, but I think he is losing ground to Gingrich with conservatives, and that may push him into the cellar. If he is indeed fourth he will have to reassess, as the FLA primary is an expensive proposition.
4a) Stephen Colbert. Colbert drew larger crowds over the past few days than the candidates on the ballot, and his Super Pac has taken out ads attacking him and promoting a vote for Herman Cain. Great stuff from Colbert.