Mitt Romney has slightly better than even odds of winning the South Carolina Republican presidential primary on Saturday. Then it’s on to Florida where Romney currently holds a big lead in the polls and has the largest paid media presence. After Florida comes the Nevada caucus, where Romney and Ron Paul are way ahead of their competitors in terms of organizing local support. If Romney wins on Saturday, his nomination prospects will go from very good to almost certain.
Polls in South Carolina showed Romney with a consistent, if slightly shrinking, lead until Wednesday. Some of the polls released Wednesday showed Gingrich ahead, but Romney continues to hold a slim lead in both the weighted and unweighted polling averages. It’s possible that a surging Newt Gingrich could catch Romney.
Thursday morning brought good news and bad news for Gingrich. The good news? Rick Perry dropped out and endorsed him. Perry’s supporters are staunch social and fiscal conservatives who may be suspicious of Romney. But Perry was polling at only 6 percent. Even a full swing towards Gingrich of Perry’s supporters might not be enough for him to catch Romney. And, of course, Perry’s voters won’t all necessarily go where he tells them to, especially given Perry’s somewhat tepid endorsement. Perry said, “We have had our differences, which campaigns inevitably bring out. And Newt is not perfect, but who among us is? The fact is, there is forgiveness for those who seek God and I believe in the power of redemption, for it is a central tenet of my own Christian faith.” It’s not clear if Perry thinks Gingrich needs divine redemption for his past indiscretions in the realm of politics, his personal life or both. And it is odd to see Perry, who staked his campaign on being a Washington outsider proposing to make Congress part time so congressmen could go home and “get real jobs,” endorsing Gingrich, a former Speaker of the House who consulted for Freddie Mac after leaving office.
The ideal reverberation from Perry’s endorsement for Gingrich would be if some supporters of Rick Santorum see it as a sign that conservatives are coalescing around Gingrich and switch over to his side.
But another event Thursday morning might remind social conservatives why they don’t trust Gingrich. Marianne Gingrich, his second wife, gave interviews to the Washington Post and ABC News about their marriage. Her comments are incredibly damning. She says that Gingrich called her at the home of her 84-year-old mother on her mother’s birthday to ask for a divorce. When they then sought marriage counseling Gingrich admitted to having an affair with his current wife, Callista, and asked for an open marriage so he could continue to cheat on Marianne. At the same time, he was traveling the country giving speeches about the importance of family values. And this is not an isolated incident. Gingrich cheated on and divorced his first wife as well, when she was seriously ill. (If you want to read the definitive piece on Marianne Gingrich, which contains a lot more damaging revelations about Newt, check out Esquire’s article from 2010.) The Gingrich campaign is not contesting Marianne’s version of events.