[UPDATE: New Florida Polls Show NEWT surge!]
In his victory speech in Columbia, South Carolina Newt Gingrich declared: "we proved here in South Carolina that people power with the right ideas beats big money. And with your help, we're going to prove it again in Florida."
It's no secret that Mitt Romney has the GOP establishment behind him. It's an ongoing effort that the Washington Post reports is intensifying as Gingrich's campaign poses a real threat to the establishment's preferred nominee. But there are kinks starting to show in the establishment armor and some within the establishment may be beginning to realize that GOP voters in the grass roots will not be told they must accept any nominee who does not first win their vote on the basis of merit or ability.
Gingrich's win in South Carolina is especially noteworthy because the exit polls reveal that Newt won across nearly the entire spectrum of voter demographics, issue concerns and qualifications. That includes the vital women's vote in the light of the recycled news about Newt's past marriages and also the electability issue that had hitherto been the claim of Romney's campaign.
Romney took first place among voters who lived in urban areas, were the highest income earners, moderate to liberal in ideology, not especially religious and not fans of the Tea Party. While Florida has a higher urban population with fewer concentrations of evangelicals and Tea Party enthusiasts will that be enough to tip the scales in Romney's direction?
Polls to shift in Florida?
Last Sunday in South Carolina the polls all showed Romney with a good lead. But in that week, two debates caused the vast majority of SC's undecided voters to flock to Newt and give him his big win. No new polls have been released in Florida during the last week. The polls prior to that week, taken as they were following Mitt's win in New Hampshire are now old news. With two debates in Florida this week there is every reason to expect that the race in Florida will be very close indeed.
Jeb Bush Neutral -- Remember Charlie Crist?
Hints that the solid wall of establishment support for Romney may be cracking ever so slightly came shortly after Newt's SC win. There had been strong signs that former Florida Governor Jeb Bush would endorse Romney. But in the past 24 hours Jeb has signalled he intends to stay neutral.
Florida GOP voters are no fonder of establishment candidates than South Carolina voters are. Remember that Florida is the state where voters rejected Charlie Crist and flocked to Marco Rubio in the 2010 Senate primary despite the near lock step endorsement of the national GOP in favor of Crist. John McCain's endorsement and campaigning with Crist couldn't save him anymore than it did Romney in SC.
The following ad was put out by Rick Santorum, but it could just as well been put out by Newt Gingrich. Both reject the establishment rush to anoint Romney and end the nomination contest:
Mitt's Negative Campaign Continues
In his concession remarks Saturday night and in television news show appearances on Sunday Mitt Romney continued his negative line of attack on Gingrich. Romney's negative campaign worked in Iowa but failed utterly in South Carolina where he outspent Newt by at least 2 to 1. Romney has already spent millions in Florida continuing the same attacks which failed in South Carolina.
It's entirely possible that Florida voters will reject Mitt's negative attacks and flock to the most viable conservative alternative in the same way that SC voters did. In any case, it should be another interesting ten days.