Can Newt Gingrich capitalize on S.C. momentum in Florida primary?


Republican presidential candidate former House Speaker Newt Gingrich reacts to a question at the start of the Republican presidential candidate debate at the North Charleston Coliseum in Charleston, S.C., Thursday, Jan. 19. (David Goldman/AP)
January 23, 2012

Former House speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.), carrying momentum from his Saturday win in the South Carolina primary, is within one point of Mitt Romney in the latest national tracking poll from Gallup, our polling team reports:

One week ago, Mitt Romney amassed a record 23-point lead in Gallup tracking polls. But in the latest poll released Monday, the former Massachusetts governor’s advantage has evaporated to a single percentage point among Republican-leaning registered voters, as the former House speaker has surged yet again after falling hard in late December. Romney now stands at 29 percent to Gingrich’s 28 percent, a difference that is within the poll’s margin of error.

While there is no national Republican primary and such polls seem to have become a trailing indicator of the latest state-level contests, the Gallup poll demonstrates that Romney has lost ground in the majority of the country where voters will host primaries and caucuses in the coming months.

It also demonstrates that Gingrich’s surging popularity after two well-received debate performances took place not just in South Carolina - where he won Saturday’s primary - but across the U.S. In South Carolina, Gingrich beat Romney by 50 to 22 percent among voters who said debates were an important factor in their vote, according to network exit polls.

Gingrich’s South Carolina win came with a much higher percentage of votes among women than pundits were predicting, Amy Gardner blogged in She the People:

“Republican women don’t vote for cheaters, period,” one Republican strategist in Washington said in an interview a few days before the South Carolina primary. The strategist, who requested anonymity to speak candidly, echoed long-held conventional wisdom and years of electoral results showing that women, in particular, are less likely to vote for political candidates with a history of marital infidelity.

Gingrich has faced a gender gap for much of the election cycle, and he attracted significantly weaker support among women than men as recently as early last week in South Carolina. Most analysts attributed this to his tumultuous personal life, which includes three marriages and multiple extra-marital affairs, including one, during his second marriage and while he was House speaker, with the woman, Callista Bisek, who
Republican U.S. presidential candidate and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich celebrates backstage with his wife. Callista, and his supporters after his speech at his South Carolina Primary election night rally in Columbia, S.C. (Eric Thayer - Reuters)became his third wife.

Voters were reminded of that personal history just a few days before the primary, when a sensational interview aired on ABC with Gingrich’s second wife, Marianne, in which she accused Gingrich of asking her for an “open marriage” during the 1990s. The interview only heightened the expectation that Gingrich would not do well among women voters.

But something else entirely happened Saturday night in South Carolina: According to exit polls, Gingrich got nearly as much support from women as men. He won among married women, single women and evangelical women .He did beat other candidates by a somewhat larger margin among men, but he was tops among women as well, including 41 to 28 percent win over Romney among married women.

These results not only shed light on how Gingrich prevailed so widely in South Carolina; they also suggest that Gingrich may have dispensed with a topic long thought to be a huge weakness for him. That possibility may also force a rethinking by allies of former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, who have been attacking Gingrich on the issue of character for weeks.

The Romney campaign is fighting to reclaim its solid footing, primarily through casting doubt about Gingrich’s record and character ahead of the Florida primary, Philip Rucker reported:

A combative Mitt Romney on Monday broadened his call for Newt Gingrich to release records from his work as a consultant, speculating that those documents and records from a House ethics investigation from his time as speaker could show “potentially wrongful activity of some kind.”

“We could see an October surprise a day from Newt Gingrich,” Romney told reporters at a media availability here. “And so let’s see the records from the ethics investigation, let’s see what they show. Let’s see who his clients were at the time he was lobbying Republican congressmen for Medicare Part D.

“Was he working or were his entities working with any health-care companies that could’ve benefited from that? That could represent not just evidence of lobbying but potentially wrongful activity of some kind.”

Romney — who has come under fire for not releasing his tax returns, and has promised to do so Tuesday — also called on his surging rival to return the money he was paid by housing giant Freddie Mac.

He offered no evidence that he knew of wrongful activity by Gingrich. Nor did his advisers when pressed by reporters. The allegation was the latest sign that Romney is searching furiously for a way to blunt Gingrich’s momentum, coming after his surprise win Saturday in the South Carolina primary.

Romney and his campaign surrogates hope to place Gingrich on the defensive heading into Monday night’s NBC Republican presidential candidate debate here, and the Florida primary next Tuesday.

“He said in a debate, actually, that people who profited from the failed model of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae ought to give back their money,” Romney said. “Well, the speaker made $1.7 million in his enterprises from providing services to Freddie Mac. He ought to give it back.”

Campaign officials said Romney will air a television advertisement in Florida this week that attacks Gingrich over his ties with the housing giant. Titled “Florida Families,” the ad begins with a narrator saying, “While Florida families lost everything in the housing crisis, Newt Gingrich cashed in. Gingrich was paid over $1.6 million by the scandal-ridden agency that helped create the crisis.” 

Read more on PostPolitics.com

Follow Nia-Malika Henderson (@NiaWapo) on Twitter for updates from Newt Gingrich’s campaign stops

Newt Gingrich’s @MentionMachine page

Florida Republican debate: where and when to watch

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