Even with Marianne Gingrich set to describe her ex-husband as Marianne un-Faithfull, the competitive portion of the Republican primaries may not be over. Attribute this development to three bombshells dropped in a single day:
1. With votes from eight precincts missing, Rick Santorum finished 34 votes ahead of Mitt Romney in the Iowa caucuses. It’s a virtual tie, but with these new numbers Romney’s claim to “historic” victories in both Iowa and New Hampshire loses its luster. Santorum’s 34-vote margin is also bigger than the 8-vote margin with which Romney was said to make such history.
2. Newt Gingrich, buoyed by a strong debate performance and a quasi-endorsement of Sarah Palin, has moved back into the lead in South Carolina, however narrowly. Maybe Santorum’s numbers will rise again with today’s Iowa disclosure, but the clear trend has been toward Gingrich consolidating the anti-Romney vote in SC.
3. Rick Perry has dropped out of the race and endorsed Gingrich. He wasn’t doing particularly well — he dropped to 2 percent in the latest Rasmussen poll in South Carolina — but he was pulling roughly the margin between Romney and Gingrich.
If Santorum finishes fourth in South Carolina behind Ron Paul, as the latest polling suggests he could, might he then drop out? Gingrich would then get a clear shot at Romney.
Gingrich’s organizational problems, ballot access struggles, and dirty laundry would make it difficult for him to win a protracted nomination fight against the Romney machine. But such a battle would shift the focus to Romney’s weakness in the South and force him to win his delegates from states that are a whole lot less red, a less than optimal strategy going into the general election. Simply finishing second in a couple of states right as the aura of inevitability is starting to set in could derail some of Romney’s momentum.
Of course, if Gingrich falls even slightly because of his ex-wife’s discussion of his character and/or Santorum surges as a result of the certified Iowa results, we could be having a completely different conversation.