Why Romney's Still the One
Newt Gingrich is still a long shot to win the Republican presidential nomination, and is likely to remain one even if he wins the Florida primary on Jan. 31.
His solid win in the South Carolina primary -- after dismal showings in Iowa and New Hampshire -- did energize his campaign and place a significant hurdle in Mitt Romney's path to the nomination. But the past -- both recent and distant -- will catch up to Gingrich eventually.
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First, the recent past. Last June, the former House speaker's campaign staff quit en masse, leaving him to run the race practically by himself. As a result, when his turn came as candidate of the month in the "Anybody but Romney" sweepstakes, he had little money and less organization.
That still haunts him.
Even with $10 million in gifts from one donor to a super PAC that supports him, Gingrich still has comparatively little money and limited organization. One result is already obvious: He didn't qualify for the ballot in Virginia, the state where he now lives. Romney will win there by default. Other results of the organizational shortcomings will become evident in February and March, when a cascade of primaries and caucuses will drain Gingrich's bankroll and strain his resource-thin operation.
As for the more distant past, his recent successes will bring much closer scrutiny from the media and from other candidates. His record as speaker wasn't pretty, even in the eyes of many Republicans who served with him. He was investigated and reprimanded by the House ethics committee, had to give up the speakership because of lack of support and resigned from the House. Not a lot of voters remember that, but they'll be constantly reminded in the weeks ahead.
Gingrich also has a reputation -- again in the words of members of his own party -- as a loose cannon. In fact, there's an effective campaign ad just waiting to be made, quoting his fellow GOPers in the House, Senate and statehouses about why the prospect of a Gingrich presidency worries them. If Romney's team doesn't make this advertisement, you can bet President Obama's would if Gingrich were to somehow pull out the Republican nomination.
Gingrich could very well win in Florida, although a lot can happen in the week before the vote. A week ago, remember, Romney still looked invincible and Gingrich's campaign was staggering. Romney has a bit of a cushion: a big lead in early voting that his organizational advantage allowed him to compile before Gingrich grabbed the momentum. So even if Romney loses Florida, it's not likely to be a blowout.
A win by Gingrich will make Romney's road longer. But the trip is still likely to end in the same place -- on the podium at the Republican convention in Tampa, Fla., this summer, with Romney accepting the nomination.