South Carolina: This changes…Something!

Not in the long run, but still something.

Last week, I was thoroughly convinced that today’s primary in South Carolina would produce a clear victory for Romney, setting him up for a win in Florida and de facto ending the Republican nomination contest by the end of the month. Well, I’m a big enough Blogger to admit when I’m (partially) wrong. To wit, view the latest polling average from Real Clear Politics over the last three days:

As you can see, going in to the home stretch, Gingrich is in the lead, has upward momentum, and Romney, which is even worse for his chances today, has downward momentum. The model at the eminently respectable is forecasting a Gingrich victory of around 38-30.

What happened? Gingrich has had some clear pluses this week: momentum from a strong debate performance Monday, Perry dropping out and endorsing him (which I did not foresee), and another strong showing on Friday night. He also had some pretty clear minuses in the last few days: Santorum’s endorsement by the Evangelical establishment, Santorum’s belated recognition as the victor in Iowa, and a decidedly unflattering interview with his ex-wife on national television Thursday night.

The pluses seem to be outweighing the minuses. Goes to show you what I know! I also realize that I made a fundamental error in my mathematical noodlings from last week in only considering reallocation of votes among candidates and not the additional factor that there were about 10% undecided who might break Gingrich’s way as well. Even so, I wouldn’t have called it, since I thought Perry would hang in there, and in addition to the votes from Perry, Santorum and undecideds going to Gingrich, Romney has been dropping the last few days.

Color me contrite! And, to clarify my above statement that I was partially wrong, I am probably, in fact, going to be completely wrong in my short term predictions from last week. If Gingrich wins today and Santorum is fourth, Florida becomes a real contest. And if Santorum is fourth there as well, Gingrich has an excellent chance of being the last Conservative standing and pulling in enough resources from that status to hang in there for many primaries and caucuses to come. As most everyone notes, Romney retains every advantage over the medium/long term. In that sense the “inevitable Romney” theory is probably still correct. But this could at least keep it interesting through Super Tuesday!

And it also has some bearing on Romney’s ultimate prospects, as the longer the competitive race, the more focus on him seems to be eroding his favorability rating. Everyone pulls together for their nominee eventually, of course, but enthusiasm matters, as does the opposition seeing what avenues of attack are likely to be most fruitful. Those of us who still believe in civility should put up the blast shields, because this fall could get nasty on both sides…            

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