What a week for Mitt Romney. He’s gone from obvious nominee to the man who just can’t catch a break. First a recount snatched his win in Iowa, then Newt Gingrich debated his way to an upset in South Carolina (this despite a sex scandal that might have condemned a more conventional candidacy).

There won’t be a recount in South Carolina: With the final votes tallied, Gingrich embarrassed Romney with a double-digit victory.

Following what we thought were back-to-back wins in Iowa and New Hampshire, Romney was well ahead in the polls going into the first contest in the South. But the stars aligned for Gingrich, who benefited from factors in and out of his control.

For one thing, Romney’s coronation procession was derailed by the news that he did not actually win the Iowa caucuses, but instead took second place behind Rick Santorum. Before his nomination was perceived as inevitable, Romney was expected to have problems in South Carolina; a conservative-Christian state with high unemployment is not the ideal hunting ground for a Mormon equity fund manager.

Gingrich and his super PACs helped the turnaround by pressing a populist attack against Romney. And then there were the debates. Exit polls showed that half of voters were influenced by the debates, which gave Gingrich an opportunity to turn scandal into a crowd-pleasing attack on the mainstream and/or liberal media. Simultaneously, Romney was put on the defensive regarding his tax returns.

So it’s been an eventful night for Newt and for the Republican Party, which now has three winning candidates in three primary-process elections. — PZS

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