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Friday, January 27, 2012

Will Gingrich Flame Out Again?

Republican presidential candidate and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich laughs
while speaking during a South Carolina Republican presidential primary night rally,
Saturday, Jan. 21, 2012, in Columbia, S.C. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

After his landslide victory over Mitt Romney in the South Carolina primary, Newt Gingrich is enjoying his latest wave of support. He's back on top in national polls, and he even looks competitive in Florida. It's just the latest surge in what may be the most bizarre campaign for the Republican presidential nomination in recent memory.

It also begs the question of whether the former House Speaker can capitalize on his latest triumph. He's been riding high before, only to crash and burn surprisingly quickly. Here's a brief recap:

Last fall, Gingrich succeeded Herman Cain as the top alternative to Mitt Romney. He was already rising in the polls when Cain dropped out of the race on December 3rd, and he peaked at 35% in the RealClearPolitics average of national polls ten days later. Arguably, there was no one single pin that burst the Gingrich bubble; he was under fire from all sides, and his campaign was clearly unprepared to handle all that came raining down on him at the end of the year. His poll numbers tanked, and he bottomed out at 16% in the afoermentioned RCP average on January 9th, the same day a surging Rick Santorum peaked (at 17.8%). Then he started rising in South Carolina polls, and ever since his victory there, he's been on an upward trajectory nationally, overtaking Santorum and eventually Romney. As of today, RCP has him at 31.3%, with Romney in second at 27%. It remains to be seen, however, whether the latest Gingrich surge will materialize into anything or if it will be just another dead end.

If Florida is any indication, then the latter is probably true. Republicans in the Sunshine State, which holds its primary next Tuesday, appear to have had their Wait-a-minute moment with Gingrich; after routing his competitors on Saturday, Newt found himself atop three different surveys of likely Florida voters. That was enough to propel him to the head of the pack in the RCP average of Florida polls, but his lead in that state vanished as quickly as it materialized; today, RCP has Romney leading Gingrich, 38.7% to 31.5%, and the trend looks good for Mitt.

A Romney victory in Florida should blunt Gingrich's momentum nationally, and the former Speaker won't have an easy go if it in February: the Nevada, Colorado and Maine caucuses should be easy wins for Romney, and I don't see Minnesota or Missouri being Gingrich country. There won't even be another southern state primary until March, by which time Newt's campaign will surely be running on empty if South Carolina remains his only blue ribbon. Yes, I expect Gingrich will once again flame out; the real question is, how long will he stay in the race?

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