Coming out of his strong victory in South Carolina, Newt Gingrich had a golden opportunity in the Sunshine State to deal a deathblow to the Romney campaign. Defeat Romney a/k/a the Weathervane in a large state like Florida, and the main rationale of the Romney campaign, electability, would be shattered. If Gingrich had won the state he would haven been the clear frontrunner and Romney would have been wondering whether he would be too old to try again in 2016. Instead, Romney has won, and appears to have won strongly. What happened?
1. Money-I have seen figures indicating that the Weathervane outspent Newt 3-1 to 5-1 in Florida and that type of advertising dominance in an election race will move numbers. In South Carolina the spending figures were close to parity because Romney assumed that Gingrich was roadkill. Romney did not make that mistake in Florida.
2. Negative Campaigning-Romney spent his money almost entirely on negative ads against Gingrich. People may deplore a negative campaign, but it will usually work in bringing the target down and it certainly did in this contest, especially since Gingrich lacked the resources to respond effectively.
3. Bob Dole Lives!-The GOP establishment, alarmed at the prospect of a Newt candidacy in the Fall, had every Republican “leader” imaginable endorsing Romney and unloading on Gingrich. They even dug up Zombie Bob Dole out of his retirement from making erectile dysfunction commercials and had him engaging in some decades old payback for Gingrich accurately dubbing him the tax collector of the Welfare State. The endorsements ensured a steady drumbeat of positive stories for Romney and negative stories for Newt.
4. One Trick Pony-Gingrich prospered due to his skill at debate. He went to the well too often on that in Florida. Someone in the Romney campaign finally convinced the Weathervane to get badly needed debate coaching. In the Florida debates his performances ran the gamut from bad to robotic, but that was an improvement from his previous standard which ran the gamut of better than Perry to better than a test pattern. Additionally the media, Newt’s punching bag, nullified Newt’s advantage with a silenced audience in the first debate and then with an animated Wolf Blitzer who put the rabid into his first name as far as Gingrich was concerned in the second debate. Additionally, Newt was off his stride and defensive during both of the debates. Becoming the front runner, even briefly, can make a candidate too cautious and that is what happened to Gingrich
5. Moon Colonies-Newt has long been a strong advocate of space exploration. Showing the lack of discipline which has always been his hallmark, he decided to call for moon colonies during his term as President, partially no doubt to pander to the voters who work for space related industries in Florida, but also because he believes it. On substance I think he is correct. I think that a moon colony could be established on the moon, especially since a huge amount of frozen water is there, but in these times of budget meltdown it simply was foolish to propose it, and it enhanced Newt’s reputation as having a fondness for flaky, ill-thought out proposals, as well as causing more than a few voters to laugh at him.
6. All About Newt-One of the strong points of the Gingrich campaign has been that most Republican primary voters have little love, to say the least, for Romney. One of the weak points of the Gingrich campaign is that most Republican primary voters also have little love for him. As long as he could focus attention on Romney, Newt prospered. In Florida, Romney succeeded in focusing voters on Newt, and Newt’s lead in the polls vanished over night.
7. Romneycare and Flipflops-Newt badly mishandled his attacks on Romney by talking about Romney’s role at Bain Capitol, Swiss Bank Accounts and Romney investments. He should have been hammering away at Romneycare and Romney flipflops instead. In the second debate Santorum was devastating on Romneycare, something Newt should have been doing from the beginning of the campaign.
Is it all over? Not quite yet, but it is getting close. Unless Romney loses a few of the primaries and caucuses in February, slowing his momentum, he will probably put this race away on Super Tuesday, March 6. For now, there is only one debate in February. Gingrich has come back from the political dead in this race twice thus far. We will see in February if he can do it again, or if Santorum can suddenly gather steam.