Gingrich . . . . . 40.4%
Romney . . . . . 27.8%
Santorum . . . .17.0%
Paul . . . . . . . .13.0%
Both Santorum and Paul say they will continue. How fast things change. Last week, Nate Silver's projections gave Romney some 80% chance of winning S.C. Even as late as yesterday morning, he was still giving Romney a 62% chance of winning -- but that changed dramatically as the day went on and the full effect of Newt's debate rant and general performance became clear.
Painting Romney as the "vulture capitalist" certainly hurt, and Mitt didn't do well at all with working class voters. That will continue to be his vulnerability.
There was nothing wrong with the statistics. The race was just that volatile.
Here's the explanation:
In exit polls, 53% of those voting said that they made up their minds "within the past few days." And 64% said that the debates were important in their decisions. In the last debate, Newt got standing ovations, while Mitt was booed.So: (1) debates are important, at least the late ones; (2) the race is going to go on for a while -- some are predicting it won't be decided until the convention. Voters just aren't happy with any of the choices, and they kept going with the surge-of-the-week. Santorums' surge was perfectly timed for Iowa; Newt's peaked for South Carolina. They could even wind up with a brokered choice, with someone else being nominated at the convention if no one has a majority of pledged delegates: Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, even Tim Pawlenty could be resurrected; and (3) this is all good for the Democrats.
DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz lost no time in piling on, releasing a statement saying this shows the fallacy in Romney's candidacy: that he is completely out of touch with middle class, working Americans.
But would we be happy if Newt winds up being the nominee? Conventional wisdom is that he would be much easier for Obama to defeat. But I am leery of skating that close to the disaster a Gingrich presidency would be. Let's just suppose that the economy slides back into recession and that we have a major terrorist attack shortly before the election. We'd get Newt in a landslide. I'd rather have a little tougher time defeating Romney (which at this point seems eminently do-able) than to risk a President Gingrich.