State of the Race, Pre-South Carolina

Now, it gets interesting.

This week saw a lot of tumult in the nomination race.

First, Gov. Huntsman left.  Today, Gov. Perry will leave.  The former endorsed Mitt Romney, the latter is to endorse Newt Gingrich.

Today, we learned that Rick Santorum actually edged out Romney to win the Iowa caucus.

And on Monday, we saw a debate that was finally…well, a debate.  Although all candidates did have their moments in the sun, the general consensus, and my own personal opinion, is once again Newt came to the top.

So where does this leave us?

Mitt Romney is still the presumptive leader.  Let it be said that I am a marginal Romney supporter.  However, Romney has not had a good week.  He had a middling performance in the debate, although he had no major blunders.  However, his handling of his income tax statements and his now claimed 15% tax rate.  None of this would be damaging, except for the inept fashion in which the Romney people rolled out the information.

Newt Gingrich has struggled to find his footing after stumbling in Iowa.  First it was blaming PACs for all of his troubles.  Then it was attacking Bain Capital, which seemed like a silly reactionary measure.  But this week, Newt fell back to reason he surged in the first place:  his eloquent defense of conservatism.  He shined on the debate stage, especially in his unemployment.

Rick Santorum remains…Rick Santorum.  Yes, he can mobilize some social conservatives, but much like Mike Huckabee 4 years ago, his power base does not go much farther.  He on Thursday discovered that he, not Romney, won the Iowa caucus, which frankly matters not at all.  Santorum’s argument to stay in the race will be determined in South Carolina.  If he doesn’t finish at least a close third, or worse, he will have to ask questions from Gingrich and others on his rationale to go forwards.

Ron Paul is…Ron Paul.  He got slapped down in the debate regarding his opposition to killing Osama Bin Laden while in Pakistan, and rightfully so.  This will not change his supporters glowing opinions of him, and he is guaranteed 10-15% of the vote all the way through the nomination process, and he will be there until the end.

Overall, this was a very bad week for Mitt Romney, and a good week for Newt Gingrich…at least, until today.  ABC News apparently has an interview with Gingrich’s first wife, Marianne, in which she unloads on every little sordid detail of their marriage.  She apparently says Gingrich wanted an ‘open marriage’, and repeatedly had double standards for his public stands on morality and his personal behavior.  This was all known, frankly, and I am surprised that she spoke to the media now.  But this is damaging to Gingrich in a period where he has clear momentum.  And even worse, it further strengthen’s social conservatives resolve to back Santorum, making it less likely that he pulls out of the race any time soon.  Gingrich’s daughter is public, defending her father, but that may not be enough.  Only time will tell.  In any case, this is horrible timing for Gingrich, and questionable editorial judgement for ABC News.

Gingrich has closed the gap in the past few days alone.  Although most polls show Romney leading, there is no question a surge has occurred, and Gingrich actually leads in one poll.  Will the ABC News interview blunt the momentum?  I don’t think we will know until we see actual votes Saturday night.

Hang on, it is going to be a bumpy and interesting ride.

This was cross posted on Neoavatara