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Monday, January 30, 2012

How Many Rounds Can the GOP Primary Fight Last?

The big day in Florida is tomorrow and polling is all over the place. While pretty much all of it shows Mitt Romney winning, the question is by how much -- and in that, polls are in wild disagreement. Of three of the most recent polls, two show the race tightening drastically, while one shows Mittens maintaining a big lead. Already, Gingrich is lowering expectations, talking about a strong showing, rather than a win.

There's a reason why polling results are all over the place in Florida -- it's a blood-soaked battlefield. "Estimates vary on exactly how much more Romney has spent in Florida, but the enormous gap is hard to miss," writes Steve Benen. "TPM's figures say pro-Romney spending outpaced pro-Gingrich spending, $15.3 million to $3.4 million. NBC News totals put it closer to $16.9 million to $4 million. As of Friday, the New York Times pointed to a $15 million to $2.5 million gap."

So Mitt has the financial advantage and that's pretty much the only thing that turned it back around for him. But deep pockets can only take you so far. "In a general election against a well-financed incumbent president," Benen says, "this financial edge will largely disappear."


OK, so Romney probably takes Florida. What happens next?

That depends on Newt Gingrich. Gingrich is almost visibly livid at the negative ad assault in Florida, calling it "carpet-bombing." According to him, Romney is a "pro-abortion, pro-gun-control, pro-tax-increase moderate from Massachusetts" using "money from Wall Street" to take him down.

And remember, this is Newt Gingrich we're talking about here. To say he's an egotist would be an understatement -- he's a megalomaniac, convinced that he's Lincoln, Jefferson, Churchill, and Moses all rolled up into one garden-gnomish package. The modern world's Greatest American.

Jon Heileman:

[W]hat of Gingrich's pledge to carry on his crusade all the way to [the GOP convention]?... Pledges to continue the fight unabated in the face of harsh and/or humiliating outcomes are staples of presidential campaigns. And they are also patently meaningless. (Please recall Jon Huntsman's feigned brio on the night of the New Hampshire primary — and his departure from the race a few days later.) But in Gingrich's case, he might be serious, so much has he come to despise Romney and the Republican Establishment that has brought down on him a twenty-ton shithammer in Florida, and so convinced is he of his own Churchillian greatness and world-historical destiny. The same antic, manic, lunatic bloody-mindedness that has made him such a rotten candidate in the Sunshine State may be enough to keep him the race a good long time.

Waging a protracted battle would likely be an act of futility for Gingrich, but it could turn out to be something much worse for Romney. That is why it's so important for the latter not just to win on Tuesday but to win big — very big. And that, in turn, is why the matter of margins will be the topic of tomorrow's column.

And, if it continues, that's when it gets really nasty. Noodles may be offended by the impunity of a mere Romney's attacks on The Great Gingrich -- and that may drive him forward -- but Romney may want to be president more than anyone in his lifetime. Consider that he spent huge amounts of her personal fortune the last time around with nothing to show for it. And now here he is again, spending more. Mitt may be loaded, but you still don't do something like that without wanting it really badly. It's already well-established that he'll say anything to get the nomination and Florida's making it clear that "anything" includes seriously nasty things.

Some will remember the drawn-out primary battle between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. There was a lot of worry there that it would hurt the nominee's chances in the general. That turned out not to be the case. But Newt and Mitt are different people -- nastier people. And the odds that Obama will choose a Palin-like running mate to replace Joe Biden -- driving away independents with a hyper-partisan tone, while displaying a mind like a ten-watt bulb -- are slim to none.

If this goes on beyond Florida -- and there's good reason to believe it will -- it's going to hurt.


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