Romney, Gingrich get goofy in Sunshine State

Just when it looked like the Republican race for president was going to be a good, clean fight, it got downright dirty.

Coming out of South Carolina a week and a half ago, Newt Gingrich had all the momentum, and it looked like he and Mitt Romney might actually wage an interesting battle into the spring and summer. That’s when Romney decided to stop holding back and rely on his strength: Money. Big-time money. Mega huge money.

And so with the Florida primary hours away, Romney had regained the momentum by ratcheting up his attacks on Gingrich and putting the former Speaker of the House on the defensive in a big way.

I think we were all surprised by the big margin with which Gingrich won the Palmetto State. I’ve been almost as surprised by how quickly Romney turned the tables and wiped the Gingrich groundswell away. So let’s get the Florida prediction out of the way:

-Romney: 42%
-Gingrich: 31%
-Santorum: 12%
-Paul: 10%

One thing we know for sure from the campaign in Florida is that Romney and Gingrich have officially opened the door to the worst part of the primary process: Intraparty negativity. President Obama has to be sitting back and reveling in watching them unleash on each other. In addition to helping the president and Democrats load up on ammunition for the general election, it makes the inevitable loser-endorsing-the-nominee moment look all the more disingenuous.

Anyway, the question now is if Gingrich can resurrect himself for a third time. The next two contests are caucuses in Nevada and Maine Saturday. Then it’s two more caucuses Feb. 7 in Colorado and Minnesota. The problem is, there’s not a lot of recent polling data available for those races, though last week Gingrich was the big favorite in Minnesota, and Gingrich has a slight edge in the national polls.

Polling, though, may not mean much based on the money available to Romney and his supporters. You’re looking at four contests in a week spread all over the map. Gingrich says he’s in until convention in August. Romney says that’s the talk of a loser, and his wallet may back him up on that. In fact, based on the money, I’d be surprised if Rick Santorum lasts more than the next week, especially after he had to go home to Pennsylvania over the weekend to be with his sick daughter. Ron Paul will continue to stick around, though he is solidly behind Santorum in last place nationally.

Back to Florida, perhaps Gingrich can make a last-minute appeal to voters and close the gap to keep Romney from running away with it. That’s what he really has to hope for. After all, even if Romney wins every delegate up for grabs through the end of February, he’s still only about a fifth of the way to the necessary total to wrap up the nomination.

Disclaimer: The opinions I express in this and future blogs is mine and mine alone. Also, nothing I write should be construed as any sort of endorsement of a candidate, party, ideal, issue, etc. These blogs are merely my observations (written as objectively as possible) on the process this country uses to select a president.

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