The Romney campaign raked in a whopping $24 million in the fourth quarter of 2011, the Associated Press reports today, padding an already robust war chest and ensuring that he’ll have plenty of cash on hand to fend off attacks in South Carolina and Florida.
And despite a solid win in New Hampshire, there’s reason to believe he’ll need it. A Super PAC associated with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich Super PAC has made a number of large ad buys in the state as Newt aims to build momentum after two disappointing showings in Iowa and New Hampshire. Jon Huntsman has vowed to continue his campaign in South Carolina and though his polling numbers are low – behind Stephen Colbert in one poll. We’ll see if Huntsman is able to peel off a few moderate Romney supporters once the first post-NH South Carolina polls start coming in, but don’t bet on it.
Of all the early primary states, South Carolina is best positioned to anoint an elusive conservative alternative to Mitt Romney. But Gingrich and Santorum have split the vote, leaving Romney about ten points ahead of either of them. It’s tough to pick which one of them would step aside anyway; though Santorum nearly beat out Romney in Iowa, Gingrich was leading in South Carolina from early November to around Christmas time. Santorum also lacks the charisma and early victories to make a Huckabee-esque case to social conservatives. Expect some sniping as they both make appeals to conservatives.
This should be good news for Ron Paul, whose campaign called for the other not-Romney candidates to drop out and unite behind him after his second-place finish Tuesday night. However, the fact that both Gingrich and Santorum are polling around ten points ahead of Paul in South Carolina takes a lot of wind out of his case. Paul’s base has almost tripled since 2008, but it’s hard to imagine him gaining any more ground for the time being.
Dave Weigel wonders if we haven’t seen this all before:
The social conservative (wins/almost wins, depending on what math you believe) Iowa. Flush with victory, eager to prove himself in all battlegrounds, he spends most of the next week in New Hampshire. But the surge can only take him from the margin of error to (13/9) percent of the vote. The old dream candidate, now a national laughingstock only known for a debate moment (“I’m not doing any hand shows”/”Oops”) has already moved on to South Carolina. He flies to New Hampshire just to participate in a debate, deeply annoying the supporters of (Ron Paul/Buddy Roemer), whose candidate had worked harder there. He polls a pathetic 1 percent, but stays in the race. The field is crowded enough that a horrified base sees how the front-runner, who’s won the endorsement of (Lindsey Graham/Nikki Haley), can win South Carolina with a plurality of the vote.
Of course, in 2008 Rudy Giuliani, the Gingrich of the analogy, was more or less out of the running by the South Carolina primary, Gingrich is still very much in it. Daniel McCarthy rightly noted the “establishmentarian” political culture of South Carolina, which goes a long way toward explaining his strength in the state McCain carried in 2008, Bush carried in 2000 and Bob Dole carried in 1996.