Focus on Local Issues Key to Gingrich South Carolina Victory
After weeks of vicious attacks and fluctuating polls, former speaker and Republican presidential hopeful, Newt Gingrich, deafeated national frontrunner, Governor Mitt Romney, in the “First in the South” South Carolina primary.
Gingrich, who recently gained momentum in the polls despite a timely and revealing interview by ABC with Gingrich’s second wife, Marriane Gingrich, scored a crucial victory in a state that has consistently selected the candidate who goes on to win the GOP nomination since the primaries’ inception in 1980.
South Carolina voters delivered a strong anti-establishment statement by handing Gingrich a 41% lead over Romney’s 27%, Rick Santorum’s 17%, and Ron Paul’s 13%. Gingrich captured all but three counties; counties that traditionally select the most moderate GOP candidate. The victory comes as a surprise to analysts, pollsters and pundits who believed that Gingrich and Romney would actually be much closer together in the actual results. As in 2008, when Sen. John McCain defeated Mike Huckabee by three percentage points.
The significance of tonight’s result, is that Romney — the favorite of prominent GOP establishment — can no longer be portrayed as the inevitable nominee. Although Romney still enjoys a shrinking lead in national polls, South Carolina voters sent him the message that he can no longer cruise to the finish line.
Gingrich and Romney ran very different campaigns. From the start of the process, Gingrich concentrated most of his resources on the “Palmetto State,” giving him a crucial advantage at the Grassroots level, dominated mainly by conservative activist and Tea Party members. Though possessing greater campaign funding, Romney was unable to spark a movement of supporters.
Gingrich’s victory was a result of his energy, presented at the debates, as the candidate who can forcefully articulate the values and concerns of conservative voters who felt insecure over Romney ambigious conservative record. Many voters were dismayed at Romney’s aloof demeanor in debates, and the perception of Romney being a Massachusetts moderate Republican.
Gingrich also won over voters because of his strong focus on specific South Carolina issues. He made a point of attacking the National Labor Relations Board for attempting to prevent Boeing from opening a non-unionized manufacturing plant and highlighted his desire to make South Carolina a better place to do business than China by dredging the Port of Charleston.
South Carolina sees the enlargement of the Charleston Port as a pivotal issue. Currenly the port is innacessible to large, commerical vessels arriving on the coast from the newly renovated Panama Canal. Army Corps of Engineers have estimated that it would take 8 years for them to complete the necessary steps before work can begin.
“We fought the entire second world war in 3 years and 8 months,” Gingrich told attendees at his victory speech. “If we beat Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan in 3 years and 8 months, it is almost unimaginable that it now takes 8 years to ‘study’ a project”
In a state suffering from a 9.9% unemployment rate, Gingrich’s strong local economic positions routinely evoke standing ovations. Voters expressed confidence that he will be “the best Jobs president” and not the greatest “Foodstamp president,” as he calls President Barack Obama.
No candidate has yet won a contest in more than one state, which puts Florida, the host of the next primary, in the position of giving an important advantage to the winner.
In an internal staff email from the Santorum Campaign last week, Santorum staff downplayed expectations in South Carolina and told supporters that Santorum plans to continue his campaign regardless of primary results. Having finished much lower than expected, it is now uncertain whether he will have the funds to continue.
Florida, with its more diverse GOP, may be more reflective of national sympathies. A victory in South Carolina will give Gingrich momentum, but it will be essential for him to incorporate voters who may have lost faith in Santorum. All candidates will compete for the large segment of Cuban and Jewish Republicans; not to mention an important endorsement from popular Florida Senator Marco Rubio; but as current polls indicate, Florida is Romney’s to lose.