The ad doesn't specifically endorse Gingrich, but at this point it looks like a two man race -- if Mitt loses voters, the lion's share run to Newt.
And it's not like Romney needs much of a push to send him over the edge. "Before South Carolina, Mitt Romney was some 20 points ahead in Florida," notes Josh Marshall. "Two new polls have come out in the last twelve hours. Both have Gingrich up by 9 points." Newt's post Carolina bounce is stratospheric. And Rick Scott isn't very popular in his own state. In all, only 38% approve of the job he's doing as governor and even one in five Republicans disapprove. Even among Scott supporters, accusations of Medicare fraud aren't likely to be a plus for a candidate. You have to believe they support Scott despite it, not because of it. It's something they're willing to overlook.
At New York magazine, John Heilemann has a blog post up explaining what happens if Gingrich wins Florida. While it was written before AFSCME's ad buy, it goes a long way toward explaining it:
If Gingrich wins Florida, the Republican Establishment is going to have a meltdown that makes Three Mile Island look like a marshmallow roast. Why? Because the Establishment will be staring down the barrel of two utterly unpalatable choices. On the one hand, Gingrich's national favorable-unfavorable ratings of 26.5 and 58.6 percent, respectively make him not just unelectable against Obama but also mean that he would likely be a ten-ton millstone around the necks of down-ballot Republican candidates across the country. And on the other, Romney will have shown in two successive contests—one in a bellwether Republican state, the other in a key swing state—an inability to beat his deeply unpopular rival. If this scenario unfolds, the sound of GOP grandees whispering calls for a white knight, be it Indiana governor Mitch Daniels (who, conveniently, is delivering the Republican response to Obama’s State of the Union address on Tuesday night) or Wisconsin congressman Paul Ryan or even Jeb Bush, will be deafening.
Clearly, a Gingrich win in this scenario is best outcome, since he's likely to have an anti-coattails effect on congressional and gubernatorial races.
And of course, the contrast between Gingrich and Romney helps. Mitt Romney seems hopelessly out of touch -- at times almost robotic -- while Gingrich is just a jerk. The GOP base has been trained to like jerks. They think dickishness is a positive character trait. Look at talk radio; it's all loudmouths and bullies and liars and... Well, jerks. And check out wingnut comments on blog posts and news stories -- they think being creative with an insult constitutes a well-reasoned, logical argument. Who do you think a Rush Limbaugh fan hears "real" Republicanism from -- Gingrich or Romney?
Already, Gingrich's negatives are being spun into positives. Newt -- despite being an astonishingly poor choice as the candidate who can beat Obama -- is now being put across by some as the most electable candidate. The reasoning has it that Gingrich is "tough enough" to fight back. Completely lost on the people making this argument is whether general election voters are willing to blur the distinction between "tough" and "insufferable" the way Republican voters do. So far, there's absolutely no evidence that they will. If Gingrich catches fire with the GOP electorate, it'll be Sarah Palin all over again -- a divisive figure that divides the public unequally and not in that figure's favor. And, as they were with Palin, Republican voters will be completely blind the fact that their candidate is driving voters away, trapped as they are in their insular rightwing media echo chamber.
No wonder he's labor's candidate of choice. He's a GOP disaster waiting to happen -- and he can't happen soon enough.
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