South Carolina

After Newt Gingrich’s smashing victory in South Carolina yesterday, here’s my wagering advice: You can still put your money on Mitt, but don’t bet the farm. Not this year. The results for Mitt Romney weren’t pretty.

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The story of 2011 was that Republicans had a frontrunner they weren’t in love with. Mitt Romney spent the entire year below 25 percent in national polls; a new Mitt alternative surged ahead of him every few weeks, only to collapse when it turned out he or she couldn’t pass an eighth grade civics class. The pundits concluded from this that Romney’s grip on the nomination was tenuous and that, even after his (apparent) Iowa win, the race was a lot less stable than it looked.

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Newt Gingrich just won South Carolina. He did so convincingly, with a margin of more than 10 points as I write this. And he did so in some surprising ways: Exit polls suggested that the state’s Republicans were most concerned with finding a candidate who could beat President Obama. And those voters chose…Gingrich? Actually, who knows – maybe they’re right. Yes, Gingrich has a lot of vulnerabilities. But, as we’ve seen this week, Romney has some too. His best asset, his experience in business, has become a liability.

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GREENVILLE, S.C. -- Let’s hope Mitt Romney recovers from his South Carolina detour and wraps this thing up soon, because I’m not sure the agitated ghost of George Romney can take much more of this. And no, I’m not referring to Mitt’s refusal to follow his father’s lead and release a dozen years of tax returns. I’m talking about his attempt to ratchet himself and his rhetoric ever higher to satisfy a sullen GOP electorate. Romney’s diagnosis is on target: one Newt Gingrich voter after another today told me that what they prefer about him over Romney is his ability to tell it straight.

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HARTSVILLE, S.C. -- If South Carolina is on the verge of its second great rebellion, then it is happening not with a bang but with a shrug.

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So no question that Rick Santorum had an objectively good debate last night. He leveled what was easily the toughest critique against the Massachusetts health care plan that Mitt Romney has faced to date. And he’d clearly done his homework on Newt Gingrich, too—nailing him on his decade-long sympathy for individual mandates and for being AWOL during the House banking scandal, when congressmen routinely overdrew their checking accounts without penalty.

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CHARLESTON, S.C.—Thursday night’s four-top GOP debate made it official: The South Carolina primary has become a referendum on Newt Gingrich. Just 10 days after he was left in a dustbin labeled “Yesterday’s Man” after dismal finishes in Iowa and New Hampshire, Gingrich has confounded the experts yet again. The oft-derided and consistently under-estimated House speaker has now bested Jesus in his sheer number of resurrections—an association that can only help as the South Carolina primary vote looms.

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Another day, another Republican debate. But this one was more fun to watch than usual. Gingrich attacked Romney. Santorum attacked Gingrich. Gingrich attacked King. No, not Martin Luther. (Even Republicans don’t do that.) I mean John, the CNN moderator. King’s very first question was to Gingrich, about the interview in which Gingrich’s ex-wife suggested he wanted an “open marriage.” Gingrich said he was appalled that King began with that question, with so many weighty issues facing the nation. I happen to agree.

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GREENVILLE, S.C. -- Rick Santorum's South Carolina campaign director, Kerry Wood, is hard at work presiding over a get out the vote operation in a vacant brick Cape Cod on a strip on the edge of town here, where 10 volunteers are manning the phones and a few others are sticking wires into lawn signs. He said he wouldn't have time to watch Newt Gingrich's second wife, Marianne, expound on her former husband's desire for an "open marriage" in an ABC interview Thursday night.

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