Now it’s easy to call every single primary win a game-changer, but South Carolina truly was one. Not only because Newt Gingrich was able to weather a last minute bombshell from his ex-wife, who claimed he wanted an open marriage, but also because he was about 15 points down in South Carolina polls. Gingrich’s win is a game-changer because it will lead to a change in Mitt Romney’s strategy — or it at least should. Here’s what Romney needs to do (right now) and why:
SEE ALSO: Romney Faces High Stakes in Florida
Up to this point, Romney has relied on his huge cash hoard in donations to do two things: organize a prolific team on the ground in various primaries and ensure that he could go the long haul with any other nominee. So time was on Romney’s side in this equation. Ironically, though, that strategy really gave his opponents a chance to build momentum, as we’re seeing with Gingrich. So time is no longer on Romney’s side. The longer the primaries remain competitive the more voters — and the GOP establishment — will feel that maybe Romney is not a consensus candidate and is capable of beating Obama.
Few things are as overstated as the impact endorsements will have on voters. For the most part they don’t have an impact at all. Usually this is due to a candidate overestimating an endorser’s popularity, or what I would call their “stickiness”, their ability to motivate a voter to follow them in supporting someone else. For instance, Romney had South Carolina governor Nikki Haley’s endorsement and it clearly didn’t help much.
Romney can’t afford to make this mistake again. His next steps must be to secure a barrage of endorsements (from people both popular and “sticky”) that can bring voters along and convince the establishment that he is indeed the best nominee to beat Pres. Obama. To do this right he’ll need to focus on all the primaries up to and through Super Tuesday. And he should start with Florida.
CNN had rumored on Saturday that Romney picked up former Florida governor Jeb Bush’s endorsement. But on Sunday Bush denied it and said he won’t be endorsing before Florida’s primary — the time when his endorsement would matter the most. That Romney couldn’t lock in Bush’s endorsement is a further blow to his presumptive nominee status.
Romney should also be courting Tea party Reps. Marco Rubio and Allen West to strengthen his chances in Florida. It’s time for him to get more governors and sitting congresspersons. Sometimes the endorsements that matter the most come from those who have stayed out of the race the longest and have vowed to remain neutral. This was the case in 2008 when then-candidate Obama was able to secure Ted Kennedy’s endorsement, which was a strong indictment on Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
But the biggest endorsement of all could be that of Rick Santorum. After all, voters for both Gingrich and Santorum are more likely to be evangelical, more likely to associate with Tea Party values, and more likely to consider themselves very conservative compared to those who vote for Romney. A recent Politico poll seems to dispute this though, showing that there is a statistical tie between Santorum voters choosing Gingrich or Romney if he were to drop out. However the poll did not consider if Santorum were to drop out and endorse Gingrich. In that scenario I believe it could strengthen Gingrich immensely.
Sew up weaknesses
Stop pussyfooting and release your tax returns — all of them. On Sunday Romney finally announced that he’ll be releasing his 2010 return on Tuesday. But that’s too little, too late. There’s no point in acting like you have until April to swat away the concerns of voters. Democrats and Gingrich will hammer you harder than Gingrich’s ex-wife.
Romney’s debate performances have been lacking of late. While Gingrich’s performance shined in the South Carolina debate — aggressive, impassioned, and played well to the audience, Romney was flat. Turns out this hurt tremendously — 52% of South Carolina primary voters said “recent debates were one of the most important factors in deciding their vote,” and of that group Gingrich beat Romney 47%-24%.
It’s really just Politics 101: Know your weaknesses and mitigate them before the competition does. What Romney has done is give more prominence to critics’ charges of him being out of touch with the average American.