South Carolina sets stage for Florida primary


Photo: Huiling Wu/Iowa State Daily

Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich gives a speech at the Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalition’s Presidential Forum in Des Moines on Saturday, Oct. 22. 

David Bartholomew

Last Saturday’s South Carolina Republican primary appears to have shaken up the field of candidates, just before the Florida primary next Tuesday. With former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich taking in more than 40 percent of the South Carolina vote and all 23 delegates from the Palmetto State, the Gingrich shadow seems to be looming over former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney at a time when just two weeks ago many projected him to be the Republican presidential nominee.

“The South Carolina Primary was a surprise because Gingrich was not supposed to win, much less win by this much,” said Steffen Schmidt, university professor of political science. “The Gingrich win has raised a lot of red flags and the Romney campaign is very worried.”

Less than a week before the primary, Romney was riddled with campaign setbacks including strong debate performances from Gingrich, attack ads over his time spent at Bain Capital, his refusal to release his tax returns, faltering poll numbers and a confirmed loss to former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum in the Iowa caucuses, which left him with only New Hampshire to claim as a solid victory. These problems, combined with picking up only 27.8 percent in South Carolina, have put Romney on the hot seat heading into the crucial Florida primary.

“The problem with Romney is his personality,” Schmidt said. “He’s very cautious, he doesn’t really have a fire belly and he’s not a right-wing conservative candidate. … Gingrich, on the other hand, knows the South. He’s a rough fighter and Romney is the opposite of a rough fighter.”

The entire conversation of who is going to be the GOP’s presidential nominee looks to have shifted definitively from Romney to a big question mark, making the Florida primary even more newsworthy.

“South Carolina was a big boost to Gingrich, but Florida is even more important,”said David Peterson, associate professor of political science. “He needs to keep his momentum going.”

Peterson went on to say that if Gingrich can make a firm stance in Florida and come away with a win, there is the potential that he could overtake Romney as the eventual nominee. However, for the time being, he still believes Romney has the best chance.

Additionally, the other two Republican candidates left in the race — libertarian favorite Texas Rep. Ron Paul and Iowa caucuses winner Rick Santorum, who received 13 and 17 percent in South Carolina — also have to prove themselves in Florida, but the outcome for Santorum especially looks bleak, Peterson said.

“Santorum is in a lot of trouble going into Florida; he has no momentum,” Peterson said. “Winning the Iowa caucus is just about the only good news he has seen in the last two weeks.”

As for Paul, the essence of his campaign appears to be more geared toward getting his message across as opposed to winning the nomination.

“Ron Paul will still float around with his dedicated group of supporters, but it’s clearly not enough to win the nomination” Peterson said. “But I don’t really think he’s running to be the nominee, he’s running to get his message out.”

The South Carolina primary essentially narrowed down the race to two candidates, Romney and Gingrich. While it would be unfair to count Paul and Santorum out, the focus of the Florida primary and the contests after will be focused on the two leading candidates, Peterson said.

“Romney has money, organization and endorsements and can still afford to lose Florida,” Peterson said. “I still think Romney will be the nominee, but there is still a chance for Gingrich if he wins Florida.”

Schmidt had a slightly less optimistic view of Romney’s chances.

“I have no idea now who is going to be the nominee,” Schmidt said. “There are now serious questions of whether he’s a natural nominee and now he has an opponent [Gingrich] who doesn’t like him and will go after him. Romney is going to have to prove himself in Florida.”