It’s just past 7 p.m., only minutes after the polls closed, and the networks have already called this state’s primary for Newt Gingrich. The mood is jubilant in the Palmetto State ballroom at the downtown Hilton. Behind the stage a campaign sign has been raised with a new message: “Unleash the American People to Rebuild the America We Love.” Groups of supporters gather nearby to chant for the news cameras.
“Newt! Newt! Newt!”
They’re in for a long wait—two hours, in fact—until Gingrich actually gives his victory address. In the meantime, there are drinks and hors d’oeuvres to consume, the concession speeches of the other candidates to hear, and plenty of appropriately themed music to dance to (“You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet,” “I Gotta Feeling,” “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now”). For Gingrich’s loyalists in South Carolina, tonight is a time to celebrate.
Former New Hampshire senator Bob Smith, a steadfast Gingrich supporter, says he’s “so proud” of his candidate. “This is a great day, really,” Smith says. “I think it’s so much more than a win for Newt Gingrich. It’s a win for what conservatives stand for. We’ve been waiting since Reagan for this.”
“There’s no doubt that Romney was ahead,” says Gingrich supporter Congressman Joe Wilson. “The debate on Monday really did have a significant impact."
Significant enough, in fact, to warrant an early mention in Gingrich’s speech:
In the two debates that we had here, in Myrtle Beach and then in Charleston, where people reacted so strongly to the news media, I think it was something very fundamental that I wish the powers that be in the news media would take seriously. The American people feel that they have elites who have been trying for a half-century to force us to quit being American and become some kind of other system. People completely misunderstand what’s going on. It’s not that I am a good debater. It’s that I articulate the deepest-felt values of the American people.
Gingrich goes on to praise his Republican opponents, perhaps with one eye looking past the primary season. “The fact is we want to run not a Republican campaign. We want to run an American campaign,” he says. “With your help, we are now moving on to Florida and beyond.”
But Florida's next. Mitt Romney leads in the RealClearPolitics average of polls of Florida Republicans by over 18 points. The Romney campaign has been working hard on early voter turnout there, and their financial advantage over Gingrich's shoestring-budget campaign can't be understated in a large state like Florida with several major media markets.
Gingrich has 10 full days and 2 nationally televised debates to go until Florida’s primary on January 31. A lot can happen. It was, after all, roughly that amount of time and that number of debates between the day Romney won the New Hampshire primary, when he lead Gingrich by over 10 points in South Carolina polls, and the day Gingrich surpassed him in those polls.