Romney vs. Gingrich: A Fight to The Finish
NH observers say the GOP race is far from over.
After his strong showing in the New Hampshire Primary, most political observers assumed Mitt Romney would cruise to victory in South Carolina and on to the Republican presidential nomination.
But someone forgot to tell Newt Gingrich that the nomination was already all sewn up. A series of strong debate performances this week helped propel him to a big win in the Palmetto State on Saturday. And that's left the GOP nomination more in question than at any point in the campaign.
Many local observers still feel that Romney will be the eventual nominee, but Gingrich's win in South Carolina will definitely prolong the nomination process. Here's what some New Hampshire politicians and pundits had to say about Saturday's result:
House Speaker Bill O'Brien:
House Speaker William O’Brien: Even as I endorsed Speaker Gingrich for president in the last month before the New Hampshire primary, I joined many in knowing that it would take time – probably longer then the time then left before the New Hampshire primary – for the negative campaign attacks against him to be absorbed and then discarded by the voters and for Speaker Gingrich’s outstanding qualities as a leader and a conservative visionary to shine past the negativity. I was enthused by the fact that so many New Hampshire voters stuck with Newt Gingrich after those attacks and we are all inspired to see that what we said on the evening of January 10th has proven true: New Hampshire primary voters demonstrated Speaker Gingrich’s resiliency and showed that he had what it took to win South Carolina and has what it takes to win the presidency. Congratulations to Speaker Gingrich for a battle well fought and South Carolina voters for supporting the one candidate who repair this country after the failed presidency of Barack Obama.
Former State Rep. Maureen Mooney, R-Nashua: The result in South Carolina tonight is surprising. Speaker Gingrich ran mediocre campaigns in New Hampshire and Iowa, and the votes he received in each confirmed that. Tonight's outcome means three things: 1. Republicans are paying close attention to the debates. 2. Voters can change their minds quickly based on a single debate performance. 3. Tonight also demonstrates that this line-up of Republican candidates is not as weak as the pundits think but rather so strong that the voters can't make up their minds on who the nominee should be. Nevertheless, I do think Mitt Romney will continue to win in other states. I believe this particularly because his private-sector experience will resonate more with voters in Florida and elsewhere.
Former State Rep. Jim Splaine, D-Portsmouth: The day after the New Hampshire primary... when others were saying that Mitt Romney was the automatic nominee and the South Carolina polls were to his favor and the national analysts were saying he was unbeatable, I wrote in BlueHampshire.com: "There's a pendulum to politics, and I think the 2012 swing will be much to our liking. The national Republican nomination race is helping us out, and I think Mitt Romney is going to have a heck of a time in South Carolina and Florida. Their nomination process might drag well through April. That's good for President Barack Obama and Democrats everywhere." I stick to that. This race will go for a while. And it's all good for Democrats.
We The People founder Jennifer Horn of Nashua: Newt's win is very impressive, rebounding from disappointing 4th and 5th place finishes in Iowa and New Hampshire. Newt's ability to speak to the anger and frustration of conservatives from the debate stage gave him a huge boost in this last week. Going into Florida, Mitt Romney has three strong finishes, including one big win in New Hampshire, but he has a real fight on his hands. His speech tonight, where he drew distinctions between himself and Newt Gingrich, shows that he is ready to engage. He also continues to be the only Republican candidate who beats Barack Obama in head to head national polls.
Jeff Hatch, Salem Town Chair for Mitt Romney: Some may say that today's South Carolina primary is a race that Mitt Romney gave away or Newt Gingrich was guy who came from behind and took it away. I'll say that in South Carolina endorsements didn't matter. However what did was my guy (Gov. Romney) didn't do that great and played it safe during debates. The other thing that always matters in South Carolina is religion...
Pat Griffin, senior fellow at Saint Anselm College's New Hampshire Institute of Politics: Romney needs to do four things: 1. Take charge of his own destiny. Too many advisors with too many differing opinions. Fire somebody! 2. Go from defense to offense yesterday. 3. Frame a negative case against Newt and prosecute it yourself NOT through surrogates. That means a strong, forceful and tough performance in the two Florida debates. That means the words "Freddie Mac" must be mentioned more than the words" Big Mac" all over Florida. Newt had a contract – Mitt needs to demand it be shared. Mitt should and will release his tax returns NOW. Once done he needs to demand that Newt release his ethics violation files. What's good for the goose is good for the gander. 4. Take back the electability issue by making Gingrich an aloof, out of touch lifelong politician who only knows government – just like Obama.
Former State Rep. Fran Wendelboe, R-New Hampton: Obviously debates do matter and conservatives decided to peel off towards Gingrich. Paul did about what I expected – nothing will peel his brethren. All the Santorum loss of position went to Newt. But those he kept were the fundamentalist Christians that are just NOT going to buy Newt’s moral history. So Florida becomes the next battleground. I think Newt will have difficulty raising enough money and staying on message and keeping his cool over the long haul. Romney needs to use South Carolina the way Bush used what happened to him in New Hampshire in 2000. I personally believe Mitt needs to release his current return and get it behind him. I still believe if Gingrich is the nominee, Obama wins re-election. I can not see undeclared voters going with Newt. Yes, red meat Republicans appear to just love Newt’s sanctimonious lecture to the media on how biased they are, but the moderates and undeclared voters will NOT be impressed. Hmm, can you just see a brokered convention?
Rich Killion, former senior adviser to Tim Pawlenty in New Hampshire: Gingrich's win over Romney is impressive and the big story for most tonight, no doubt. But the real story is how Gingrich completely blocked out Santorum this week and has made this a two person race: Romney v. Gingrich.
Bedford Republican Stephen Poschmann: This unlikely second life for Gingrich revives the competition within the GOP race. Gingrich’s incredible late surge – Romney was leading up until a few days ago – shows that South Carolina's so-called family values voters were not swayed by the 11th hour hit-job by his ex-wife. Mitt Romney performed poorly in the last two debates. He stuttered and stammered when tested on his wealth and releasing his tax returns. With the amount of time and effort he and his campaign has put into his operation it is incredible that they would not have prepared better for those moments. Also, Romney showed the same sort of nervousness and lack of poise when quizzed by Bret Baier of Fox News months ago. It’s almost as if he hasn’t thought about these questions. Romney needs to regroup and crank up the Super PAC ads as he did in Iowa if he wants to restore the momentum he had coming out of New Hampshire. What looked a week ago like a coronation is now a competition.
State Rep. Jon Richardson, R-Allenstown: I still think that Mitt will win the nomination and I wouldn't be surprised if Ron Paul came in second overall. The primary schedule is the reasoning for this. Only Mitt and Paul have the resources ($$ and ground game, personnel, etc.) to make it through the entire schedule. Let's not forget, Newt's not even on the Virginia ballot, which shows he lacks the ground structure to completely compete. Due to the numerous caucuses, Paul has a great chance to finish second. However, I think that it's great for Republicans overall for Newt to win South Carolina. The longer the nomination takes and the more states that are mobilized to vote in competitive Republican primaries, the better. Obama benefited in 2008 from a drawn-out competition and I believe the same benefit applies on the Republican side as well.
State Rep. Ray Gagnon, D-Claremont: Wow – just when you think it's all sewn up! Basically, this means that three of the four (Santorum, Romney, Gingrich) have each won a primary. Am curious as to how well (or not) Ron Paul did in South Carolina? According to all the info – the Romney people know their numbers and took a page from Obama playbook of four years ago – they are reputed to be ready for the long haul – so can Santorum or Gingrich get up to speed nationally is the big question? Romney should do well in Michigan and Nevada (large Morman population). Am also curious if the primary process will still rely on debates – or will it swing into large media events and lots of TV? That's about all that comes to mind at first glance – hope it helps. It is almost like Romney is the groom and the gop constituents are the reluctant bride(s) and are not so sure and want a longer engagement!
Portsmouth Republican Amelia Chassé: Debates matter in this race, I'd argue more than they have in any modern presidential cycle since Kennedy/Nixon. Over 60 percent of South Carolina likely primary voters said that they watched and were influenced by the debates in a poll released yesterday, so Newt's strong performances and Romney's relatively weak ones on Monday and Thursday clearly made a difference. Newt seemed very confident heading into today, so his internal polling must have accurately predicted the results.