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Post Partisan
Posted at 12:44 PM ET, 01/20/2012

Who will win the Republican primary in South Carolina?

Will Newt Gingrich stop Mitt Romney in South Carolina, or will Romney rack up another victory? Can Rick Santorum maintain any momentum from his showing in Iowa? Will Ron Paul surprise critics who insist he can’t win? We asked PostOpinions columnists, bloggers and editors how the candidates will stack up in Saturday’s South Carolina Republican primary election.

JONATHAN BERNSTEIN

Predicted standings: Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Ron Paul

Newt has taken a real lead in the polls and should hold it through Saturday. Perhaps the bigger question right now is whether Santorum finishes strong enough to stay in the race a while longer, or whether his voters leave for the South Carolina frontrunners. My guess is that he revives a bit to finish in third place.

RICHARD COHEN

Predicted standings: Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum

Assembling a coalition of philanders and press haters (some overlap there), Gingrich will squeeze out a victory in the South Carolina primary. In particular, his attack on the press resonates with those Republicans who are not so much for anything in particular, but vehemently against their perceived enemies — Barack Obama, liberals, minorities, government, the elites and, of course, the press. George Wallace did quite well with this formulation and so, for a while, will Newt. He wins in South Carolina, but by a hair. Next comes Romney. He is poised and smart, but he is the vessel for no one’s resentments. Newt is angry at everyone, but Romney fails utterly as a demagogue, which is what a good many Republicans prefer. Even Romney’s attacks on Obama seem synthetic — talking points rather than deep-seated anger. The man is too well adjusted. Third place goes to Santorum. He hurt himself in Thursday night’s debate when he waxed emotional about finding himself up on the stage as one of the GOP finalists. He sounded grateful that he was there — not that he owned the stage and it was the others who should be grateful. It was the wrong pose, hardly a command posture. Still, Paul had a worse night and, as he well knows, it’s over for him. I miss Rick Perry.

E.J. DIONNE JR.

Predicted standings: Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney, Ron Paul

I take the risk of being wrong on Santorum beating Romney because 1) Romney seems to be in free fall; 2) Santorum had a good debate on Thursday; and 3) predictable predictions are no fun. Look for Herman Cain to get more votes than Rick Perry, thanks to Stephen Colbert’s heroic efforts on behalf of the 9-9-9 man.

JAMES DOWNIE

Predicted standings: Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, Ron Paul, Rick Santorum

Gingrich will win Saturday, with Tea Party/conservative voters returning to him as the not-Romney candidate. Attacking the media (not to mention a heavy appeal to evangelicals’ sympathy for stories of redemption) has buttressed him against the fallout from his ex-wife’s reappearance. Santorum finished strong in the debate on Thursday, but he won’t be able to pull enough anti-Romney voters away to push him past Paul. Still, with Iowa now in his win column, I’d be surprised if Santorum drops out before Florida.

ALEXANDRA PETRI

Predicted standings: Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, Ron Paul, Rick Santorum

Gingrich will come in first. Romney will come in second. The major question the race is asking right now is “Hey, do we want to string Mitt along some more?” and the answer seems to be, “Yes.” In making love to the Republican field, Romney is the guy whose persistence is only exceeded by his incompetence, and Republican voters aren’t ready to turn over and fake some enthusiasm so they can go back to sleep. Give them a month or two. Then, Paul. A former OBGYN, he knows how to deliver! Santorum won’t beat him, if only because this is not Iowa, a major hassle for Santorum’s campaign these days.

EUGENE ROBINSON

Predicted standings: Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Ron Paul

If there’s a limb, I’ll climb out on it: I’ve been in South Carolina all week, and I think the Gingrich momentum is real. He best captures the grouchy mood of the primary electorate here. So I’m picking Newt by a nose over Mitt, with Santorum edging Paul for third.

JENNIFER RUBIN

Predicted standings: Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Ron Paul

After a week like this, who knows? Romney, who had a better Thursday debate than many pundits realized and benefits from Gingrich’s troubles, falls short. Gingrich ekes out a victory, but is hurt at the end by his overplayed indignation act and reminders of his chaotic speakership. Santorum — who bloodied Gingrich in the debate — finishes strongly in third and is credited with slowing Gingrich’s surge.

STEPHEN STROMBERG

Predicted standings: Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, Ron Paul, Rick Santorum

Lots of boisterous South Carolina Republicans never wanted to vote for Romney, anyway, and the frontrunner gave them every excuse not to on Thursday night — at times he looked like the least electable candidate at the debate. Gingrich, who has his own long record of inconsistency, is nevertheless better at feeding these voters Palinesque bon bons of extremist rhetoric drenched in an undue sense of grievance against shadowy “liberal elites.” He will win, but far more narrowly than the current news coverage suggests. Santorum’s sharp attacks on Romney and Gingrich look desperate; he will come in fourth, possibly ending his candidacy. This sets up a battle royale on Jan. 31 in Florida, which jumped forward in the nominating calendar so it could be the one to sort out mixed results in the other early states, as it did in 2008.

MARC A. THIESSEN

Predicted standings: Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum

As I pointed out in my column Monday, at the start of this week Gingrich was on the ropes. With his attacks on Romney’s record at Bain Capital, he had managed to do something Romney had tried and failed to do for more than five years: rally conservatives behind Mitt Romney. But instead of riding this wave of conservative revulsion and going in for the kill in Monday’s debate, Romney gave Gingrich a pass. And, as he has in the past, Gingrich put in a stellar performance — using that debate to right his campaign, put the Bain debacle behind, and rally conservatives behind his candidacy once again. He did it again Thursday night — going after CNN’s John King for raising his ex-wife’s allegations that he had wanted on “open marriage.” And now the polls, which had shown Romney opening up by a ten point lead last weekend, show Gingrich pulling ahead. Romney may still pull it out, but Gingrich is poised for an upset victory — and if he does pull an upset, Romney will have no one to blame but himself.

By PostOpinions staff  |  12:44 PM ET, 01/20/2012

 
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