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Yesterday was a huge night in the Republican presidential race. Rick Perry dropped out and endorsed Newt Gingrich, whose ex-wife has given two scathing interviews. The result of the Iowa caucus changed, recognizing Rick Santorum as the winner. Gingrich is surging in the South Carolina polls and the final debate before Saturday’s primary was dynamic.
The importance of last night’s debate can be seen by looking at the polls. Gingrich’s numbers in South Carolina have climbed and it’s very hard to tell if he or Mitt Romney has the edge. The RealClearPolitics poll average has Romney with a slight lead, 32 to 31 points, but has Romney trending down and Gingrich trending up. Nate Silver’s latest poll analysis has Gingrich with a slight lead, 35 to 33 points. Silver believes Gingrich has a 62% chance of winning the primary. South Carolina has chosen the eventual Republican nominee every time since 1980.
Earlier this week, Romney got a boost when Jon Huntsman dropped out and endorsed him. Now, Gingrich has gotten a boost when Rick Perry dropped out and endorsed him. These two former candidates only had single-digit support in South Carolina but every point counts now. Interestingly, four recent polls with results favorable to Romney (IPSOS, Marist, Politico & CNN) show that even if all of Perry’s supporters go to Gingrich, Romney still wins. On the other hand, the recent polls that show Gingrich ahead (PPP, ARG, Rasmussen & Insider Advantage) indicate that, if Perry’s supporters back Gingrich, the former House speaker has a solid lead. At this time, the outcome of the primary is very uncertain and that’s why this debate was so fiery.
Political analyst Larry Sabato judged Gingrich to be the winner of the debate and gave him a grade of an A. Santorum was given an A-, Romney a B and Ron Paul got a C. Nate Silver, on the other hand, felt that Rick Santorum performed the best. His grades were an A- for Santorum, B+ for Gingrich, B- for Paul and C for Romney.
Newt Gingrich stole the show with the first question. The CNN moderator asked him about the allegations one of his ex-wives is making. He denied asking her for an open marriage and aggressively chastised the moderator, arguing that his decision to make that the first question shows that the media has a liberal bias. One can only grasp the intensity of the moment by viewing it, which can be done here.
His rivals were then asked if Gingrich’s marital history is a legitimate issue. Romney responded, “John, let’s get to the real issues. That’s all I’ve got to say.” Ron Paul responded similarly. Rick Santorum, awkwardly and with many stutters, said it is an issue that voters should look at but tried to appear non-judgmental by recognizing that “we are all fallen” and professing his Christian faith.
Mitt Romney’s most memorable moment is not favorable to him. The moderator mentioned how his father made political history by releasing a dozen years of income tax filings. When he asked Romney if he’d do the same, he nervously responded, “Maybe.” He was booed by some in the audience.
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