"The South Carolina primary has become a referendum on Newt Gingrich," says Walter Shapiro at The New Republic. After two strong debate performances this week, plus endorsements from Rick Perry and Sarah Palin, Gingrich has taken the lead in most polls. The GOP presidential hopeful even seems to have defused his estranged ex-wife's claims that he wanted an "open marriage," by blaming the "despicable" media for fomenting scandal. New York Times stats guru Nate Silver now gives Newt a 62 percent chance of winning South Carolina, versus 38 percent for former frontrunner Mitt Romney. Amazingly, says Shapiro, "just 10 days after he was left in a dustbin labeled 'Yesterday's Man,'" Gingrich is back on top. "The oft-derided and consistently under-estimated House speaker has now bested Jesus in his sheer number of resurrections." If Newt really does pull out a victory Saturday, how will it affect the 2012 race?
Newt could make a real run at the nomination: "A Gingrich win in South Carolina would be nothing short of remarkable," says Howard Kurtz at The Daily Beast, particularly because the press has repeatedly and "stupidly" dismissed the indomitable Republican. A triumphant Newt would head into Florida's Jan. 31 primary with "a head of steam." Mitt still has the superior war chest and campaign organization. "But the Romney juggernaut is built around the idea of inevitability, and the game could change if that notion is thrown into doubt."
"What if Newt wins S.C.?"
But Mitt would still be the heavy favorite: "Newtmentum" is clearly the big trend, says Jim Geraghty at National Review. But a Gingrich win Saturday would hardly disable Mitt. South Carolina is, after all, "one of the least hospitable early states for Romney; are we really to believe a close second, with about a third of the vote, would be some catastrophic failure?" Plus, after South Carolina comes Florida, Nevada, and Maine — "all territories much friendlier to Romney."
"How much would a S.C. win help Newt?"
If Newt wins, the media will pounce: A more predictable Romney victory in South Carolina "would effectively shut the GOP race down," says Steve Kornacki at Salon. But if Gingrich triumphs, "all hell would break loose" and the media will have a field day. Romney's strong showings in Iowa and New Hampshire moved the narrative from "'weakest frontrunner ever' to 'unstoppable force who's about to run the table.'" Faced with a Gingrich win Saturday, the media will surely fetishize his appeal and bemoan Romney's problems — setting up "a frantic ten-day campaign in Florida… [portrayed] as a referendum on Romney's viability."
"A Newt win would be a lot of fun"
A bruising, drawn-out fight would hurt the GOP: "If you are a Republican who hates a mess," says Peggy Noonan at The Wall Street Journal, then "you are beside yourself with anxiety and unhappiness." The fierce Gingrich-Romney battle in South Carolina is distracting from the real issues, "killing the party's chances" to oust Obama. Just this week, the president blocked the Canada-to-Texas Keystone XL oil pipeline project, costing America tens of thousands of jobs. Republicans should have been howling in one voice over this "scandal." Instead, they're butting into each other like cartoonish "Keystone Kops."
"The no-Obama drama"