So, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney is once again- as he had been three weeks before coming out of New Hampshire- the "front-runner" for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination. The "bump in the road" (although it was more like a deep "pothole") Romney encountered in South Carolina now seems no more than that-- at least for now.
And it certainly helps that Florida's Republican Party- having already been punished for holding its Presidential Primary in violation of the "optimum" schedule of delegate selection events most desired by the leadership of the Grand Old Party itself- decided to also drop kick the national GOP's hope that Proportional Primaries would be the norm during the earlier phases of the nominating process and, instead, opted for an old-fashioned 'Winner Take All' Primary (thus, Romney wins all of the Sunshine State's Republican National Convention delegates).
Meanwhile, as for former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, what I had written in my previous Commentary (where I noted that his tongue-lashing of debate moderator John King of CNN two nights before the South Carolina Presidential Primary surely must rank up there in the lore of American presidential politics with Hillary Clinton's (in?)famous "crying jag in the coffee shop" on the eve of the 2008 Democratic Presidential Primary in New Hampshire in terms of emotional tug soon thereafter becoming electoral success) may well have actually been true!
Or is it?
Was it simply that many a Republican voter in the Palmetto State had been simply registering an emotional personal response largely triggered by anger at the so-called "mainstream media" channeled through Gingrich? (Perhaps even Gingrich himself thinks so, for he spent much time- in his appearance before his supporters in the immediate wake of the Florida Presidential Primary the other night- seemingly running against the media as much as he was against both Romney and President Obama; evidently, Gingrich's strategy is to so fight a three-front "war"!)
Or is there still actually much more to Gingrich's performance amongst those Floridians who voted on the Republican side of things this past Tuesday than immediately meets the eye when one merely sees 'ROMNEY 46% -- GINGRICH 32%' as having been the result.
Fact is: Governor Romney gained most of his support in central and southern Florida- the "new Florida", the Florida that first emerged as Disney World (the late Walt Disney's dream of his own "magic kingdom"- a veritable Imperium in imperio right smack dab in the middle of what is, otherwise, a sovereign State of this American Union) was still under construction back in the 1960s. Romney won the State's counties in and near what the average American- particularly outside the States of the one-time Confederacy- most thinks of when he or she hears the name "Florida": Miami Beach and Fort Lauderdale, Tampa and St. Petersburg, Orlando and Kissimmee-St. Cloud, Sarasota and Fort Myers, Jacksonville and Daytona Beach... the areas which contain the bulk of resort towns, the retiree retreats, the senior citizens' "continuing care [or assisted living] communities... in other words: areas which have had, for now roughly a half century, a rather strong infusion of "Snowbird"ism.
Speaker Gingrich, however, still did well in two main areas of the Sunshine State: he won counties in central Florida north and west of Lake Okeechobee (most of which are the core of Florida's 16th Congressional District- currently represented in Congress by Republican Congressman Tom Rooney, grandson of original Pittsburgh Steelers owner Art Rooney [thus, interestingly, a cousin once removed of actress Rooney Mara, currently something of a sensation due to her role in the film The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo] and, more to the point of this piece, a man who scored 100 [out of a possible 100] with the American Conservative Union and 0 [out of a possible 100] with the liberal progressive Americans for Democratic Action due to his voting record in one recent session of Congress!) and, in addition, Gingrich nearly swept the northern tier of Florida counties running from Nassau along the northernmost Atlantic coast of the State westward through the so-called 'Panhandle' (a region- and often derisively- referred to as "lower Alabama" or "Baja Georgia" [just go a few miles inland from Gulf coast towns such as Apalachicola, Port St. Joe or Panama City and one sees (as I myself did on a vacation down that way nearly two years ago now) a veritable plethora of Confederate battle flags hanging outside the modest houses one passes on an otherwise lonely swath of state highway: this is not at all to suggest that Panhandle Floridians might, somehow, be longing for, say, repeal of the 13th Amendment that abolished slavery, mind you!-- just that this area is as much of a bastion of Southern-style conservatism not all that unlike that which so strongly expressed itself in Newt Gingrich's favor in South Carolina's Presidential Primary])...
in short, Gingrich- despite a veritable "beat-down" statewide- did quite well within so-called "old Florida", these being the remnants of what Florida might still have been now in the early 21st Century had the State not been discovered- nearly a century ago- by not-quite-so-wealthy 'Yankees' first seeking to flee their colder climes for a few months each winter and then, once financially able to do so, ending up settling there year-round!
So, what does this all mean?
It means that- while Mitt Romney has, indeed, recaptured his seemingly lost "front runner" status- he is still having trouble convincing harder-core conservative Republicans that he can carry their particular political and ideological banner; this also means that Newt Gingrich may well (assuming his campaign survives until at least Tuesday 6 March, the first "mega-Tuesday" on which several States hold Primaries and or Caucuses) still be able to spell 'trouble' for Romney's presidential ambitions in States dominated by GOP voters more like those of the uppermost reaches of Florida, whether such States be in the South (whether 'Border' or 'Deep' [with the notable- where not also glaring- exception of Virginia, where Gingrich failed to qualify for the ballot]) or the Intermountain West.
Put another way: as far as Gingrich vs. Romney (which, if nothing else, has now become vaunted as 'the Main Event') might be concerned, it may well be the End of the Beginning but it, most assuredly (principally for those supporting the former House Speaker), is not yet the Beginning of the End!
But might Florida have proven to be the Beginning of the End for others in the Republican presidential sweepstakes?
As I have said all along, Texas Congressman Ron Paul- as the candidate representing a significant, yet minority, libertarian faction within the Grand Old Party- is likely, as he did four years ago, stay in the race as long as his campaign coffers (as well as he himself) remains healthy: all the way to the Convention in Tampa, if need be.
But former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum's candidacy is clearly now "on the ropes" (whether he or his supporters want to admit it or not): more conservative voters not at all enamored of Governor Romney have, so obviously, begun to now gravitate towards Speaker Gingrich (just take a look at the numbers in both South Carolina [where Santorum finished 3rd with 17% (but 11 percentage points behind 2d place Romney)] and Florida [in which Santorum finished 3d with 13% (19 percentage points behind 2d place Gingrich)])...
Congressman Paul's candidacy speaks for a faction that has never really ever had a place at the main "Grand Old Party" table; however, Senator Santorum's represents a constituency of sociocultural/religious conservatives within the Party that has had past (and important) influence on the Party's platform every four years.
But for how much longer?
Or will, indeed, what I wrote, back before even those Iowa caucuses (which, as it turns out, Santorum had actually "won" [sort of ;-)]) held now more than four weeks ago (where I asked why is he even running? [...] does he really have a chance?... or is he just the Republican "Dennis Kucinich"?), soon (however belatedly!) become true?
Nevada this coming Saturday (4 February) and Colorado the following Tuesday (the 7th)- along with a few non-binding/straw poll events (such as those held in Minnesota and Missouri [also on the 7th])- may well give us clues (but only Nevada directly ties the voting in its Caucuses to the distribution of National Convention delegates amongst the presidential contenders so, except in the Silver State, such will only be clues).
But-- no--- the race for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination is not over...