Gingrich creeping up on front-runner Romney
New polls show that the republican presidential nominee race is tightening quickly, with conservative favourite, Newt Gingrich, speeding up to almost level with the anointed front-runner, Mitt Romney. Frances Mao reports.
Having swept the primaries so far, Mitt Romney went into the South Carolina caucus with the momentum of the presumptive republican nominee and is still odds-on favourite to win, despite heightened attacks from his opponents in the ‘Tea Party’ leaning state.
Mr Gingrich, who finished third in New Hampshire, has vowed to confront Mr Romney head-on with the intent of toppling the former Massachusetts governor.
Fellow contenders, Rick Perry and Jon Huntsman both called it quits, with the former passing on his small support base to Mr Gingrich in the hope that it’ll be the bump needed to get him across the line. Huntsman on the other hand, endorsed Mr Romney, urging republicans to line up behind “the man most equipped to defeat Barack Obama,” citing his electability. A convincing win in South Carolina will all but sew up the race in Mr Romney’s favour, and deal a very likely, fatal, blow to the three remaining opponents’ chances of attaining the presidential nomination.
Yet, Mr Gingrich, the one-time favourite in the South Carolina and Florida primaries who was eclipsed by Mr Romney’s rising star, went into vote within striking range of the leader, according to a Politico poll which shows Romney atop the republican ‘Grand Old Party’ (GOP) field with 37 per cent and the former House Speaker at 30 percent.
However, he will first have to deal with consolidating the support of America’s bible-belt voters. He faces stiff competition from rival conservative and Iowa runner-up, Rick Santorum, who won the official endorsement of the state’s prominent Christian coalition. Both men are battling for the same powerful bloc of evangelical voters, leaving a divided conservative field that has allowed Romney to remain at the front of the field, despite a lingering “Anyone-but-Mitt” ethos.
Mr Romney’s prolonged front-runner status has seen him face an onslaught of criticism from both ends of the spectrum – the White House and his Republican rivals. For weeks now, he has been fending off renewed attack ads, from Super PACs (Americans for a Better Tomorrow) aligned with Gingrich, which have blasted his corporate history. As an Executive of Bain Capital, a private equity firm that made millions of dollars restructuring companies, he has been accused of helping destroy jobs for profit.
Many see Gingrich’s bracing vitriol as retaliation for Romney’s actions in Iowa. Sitting atop the polls leading up to the start of the primaries, Gingrich felt the sting of Romney’s moneyed campaign machinery when the Romney camp seized on the former House Speaker’s chequered past: a Capitol Hill record disgraced by ethical violations and a marital history peppered with infidelity, in an attack campaign blanketing. With 45 per cent of negative TV ads aimed squarely at Gingrich, according to the Campaign Media Analysis Group, the thrice-married candidate saw a collapse in poll numbers ahead of the Iowa caucus, finishing with a fourth place result.
Determined to not be consigned to just another ‘flavour of the week’ candidate though, he has focused on getting back in the race by bringing down Mr Romney, and is picking up speed again in his favoured southern states.
Mr Romney has also come under fire from Democrats who have been quick to posit the anointed frontrunner as a champion of the wealthy. Mr Romney, whose private wealth is estimated to be about $US250 million, revealed yesterday in response to insistent queries from his rivals, that he “probably” pays a 15 percent tax rate, a bracket suited to struggling lower income earners.
The head of the Democratic National Committee, Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, said Mr Romney had shown through his campaigning “that he is completely out of touch with the concerns of America’s working and middle-class families.” The Romney campaign worked hard to dampen the flames, when Mr Romney offered to wage a $US10 000 bet with then candidate, Rick Perry, during a nominee debate broadcast last October.
Nevertheless, Mr Romney is considered by the GOP as the republican standard – bearer to lead, with broad appeal and possessing the best chances to go head to head with Obama in November. Seen as the candidate who is most ‘presidential’, his heavily criticised business experience on the flip side is seen to be a major drawcard for the GOP, against the backdrop of the United States battling economy and a crucial factor in attempting to uproot Obama from the White House.