The news of the morning appears to be Newtmentum, or the notion that Mitt Romney is in danger of losing South Carolina.
POLITICO Poll, 600 registered likely GOP primary voters, conducted Tue. and Wed. by the Tarrance Group (+/-4.1%): “South Carolina a two-man race: Romney 37%, Newt 30%, Paul 11%, Santorum 10%, Perry 4% (Q9) . . . When first and second choice combined — Romney is at 58.6%, Newt 56.4% . . . Romney-Newt gap lessens to 2% when voters were first asked to make a choice without being given a list of names — Romney 31%, Newt 29%. Only one person named Colbert. . . . 70% say Romney’s work at Bain Capital makes no difference to the way they’d vote (Q13) . . . 83% say Romney being Mormon makes no difference in way they’d vote (Q14) . . . Paul’s negatives are high. He’s the only candidate underwater in favorable/unfavorable.” Hohmann story http://bit.ly/yHWWpb Full results http://bit.ly/zZJfZq Crosstabs http://bit.ly/ySmPpI
More dramatic is the Augusta Chronicle poll:
In a poll conducted Wednesday night by InsiderAdvantage/Majority Opinion Research for The Augusta Chronicle, Gingrich reversed the momentum of Mitt Romney, who had an expanding lead in the same poll Sunday night.
Gingrich’s 32 percent to Romney’s 29 percent puts the two inside the poll’s 3.8 percent margin of error, but the 11-point lead Romney held in the Sunday evening survey has evaporated.
The Marist poll puts Romney up by 5 after the debate; the CNN poll puts him ahead by 10.
Suppose Romney finishes in the mid-30s, but Gingrich ekes ahead of him. While it’s always disappointing to blow a lead, and that would undoubtedly give Gingrich a surge of momentum into Florida, I’m not quite sure this would be the giant trouble sign that some MSM campaign correspondents are suggesting.
For starters, South Carolina looks like one of the least hospitable early states for Romney; are we really to believe a close second, with about a third of the vote, would be some catastrophic failure?
Secondly, barring some dramatic collapse, Romney should come out of the Palmetto State with a decent number of delegates.
A candidate wins two delegates for each of the seven congressional districts in South Carolina that they win. So it’s possible the statewide winner could run up a big margin in one of the districts and finish a close second in the rest, and end up with fewer delegates in this portion of the allocation.
The second portion of the delegates is allocated to the statewide winner, and Josh Putnam explains:
The winner of the statewide vote — whether by plurality or majority — will be allocated all 11 delegates. Again, this was the same method of delegate allocation that the SCGOP used following the penalties imposed when the state party moved the Palmetto state presidential primary into January in 2008. The result was that John McCain won 18 of the available 24 delegates — 12 for the statewide win while splitting evenly the six congressional district votes with Mike Huckabee for the remaining 6 delegates. A narrow win (~4%) in 2008 netted McCain a 3:1 advantage in the delegate count coming out of the state. The statewide at-large delegates make the difference.
Mitt Romney currently leads the delegate fight 14 to 2 over Gingrich (even though Iowa’s delegates don’t get officially assigned until the state convention in a few months).
It is theoreticallly possible that Gingrich could sweep all or most of the congressional districts and leave South Carolina with the vast majority of the delegates, and a big win in the Palmetto State would indeed make him the leading “Not Romney candidate.” But the states to come after that, Florida, Nevada, and Maine, are all territories much friendlier to Romney. The frontrunner can afford to stumble; his challengers have much less room for disappointing finishes.