Last week was a cruel one for Newt Gingrich: He still leads his three Republican presidential rivals in national polls, but in the race that counts — Florida's primary on Tuesday — he has gone from trouncing Mitt Romney to trailing him by double digits. Gingrich also botched last week's two televised debates — the last ones until Feb. 22 — a platform he's generally milked to great effect. February features a handful of caucuses and two primaries that favor the deep-pocketed Romney. Newt vows to fight Mitt "all the way to the convention," but if Romney crushes him in Florida, is the race for the GOP nomination basically over?
Romney has this in the bag: With Florida in his column, Romney's "sprint for the nomination will become more of a stroll," says Chris Cillizza at The Washington Post. He should easily win February contests in Mormon-heavy Nevada and Arizona, and in his birth state of Michigan. The only thing that could keep Newt afloat until Super Tuesday on March 6 is the "continued largess of billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson." But Adelson has already given $10 million to Gingrich's super PAC — and he might not want to keep backing a loser.
"Before Super Tuesday, a Romney-friendly lull"
The race is only just beginning: "Gingrich may be losing his momentum," says Mark Halperin at TIME, "but Romney is failing to unite the party or attract independents," leaving him vulnerable to a prolonged grudge match. Florida is only the fourth of 50 states to vote, and "Sarah Palin, talk radio hosts, and Tea Partiers... are not ready to crown a leader with Romney's record on health care, jobs, and social issues." Declarations from the "impatient media" that Romney is the de facto nominee will only make the "right-leaning anti-Establishment" more determined to sink Mitt.
"Why Romney is winning in Florida and what comes next"
One way or another, Romney will end this soon: I have no doubt that a furious Newt really is planning to battle Mitt all the way to the Republican convention, says Kevin Drum at Mother Jones. There's only one problem with this "blood feud for the ages": "If Romney builds up a big enough head of steam, he'll declare victory and withdraw from future debates," depriving Newt and the "also-rans" of free air time and any share of the national conversation.
"Newt Gingrich now promising a blood feud for the ages"