Newt Gingrich could lose Florida by a double-digit margin tomorrow. What will that mean for each candidate remaining the race?
For Gingrich, February will be the toughest month. If he doesn’t pull off an upset in Florida, he isn’t favored in another nominating contest until March 6. Can he keep his campaign going until Super Tuesday? That will be his challenge if losses follow in Nevada, Arizona, and Michigan. There also aren’t any debates. But Gingrich is adept at using free media to keep himself in the spotlight.
Mitt Romney is obviously hoping that Florida effectively ends the competitive porition of the Republican race. That doesn’t mean that he’ll go undefeated in the remaining primaries and caucuses (barring major candidate withdrawals). But the Romney camp hopes a solid Florida win will establish their candidate as the only one with a realistic path to the nomination.
Rick Santorum is betting that even if Florida derails Gingrich, the depth of anti-Romney sentiment within the GOP is strong enough that there will be a search for another conservative alternative. Santorum will stress that he is a more principled — if less “flamboyant” — conservative choice than Gingrich in any event. It’s a long shot since Santorum isn’t favored in any February states either, but it’s more than enough to keep him in the race past tomorrow.
Ron Paul has effectively bypassed Florida but is also hoping the Sunshine State ends Gingrich’s run as the main anti-Romney. Unlike Santorum, however, there are several caucuses ahead where Paul’s campaign believes he can do well. The next month will be a test of their caucus strategy, which has them prioritizing the delegate hunt over primaries where finishing ahead of Santorum would be considered a moral victory.
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