Tonight, NBC Television will host yet another GOP debate – the 18th of the cycle. If that sounds like overkill, presidential contender Newt Gingrich begs to differ. His decisive win in the South Carolina primary Saturday was aided significantly by his recent debate performances.
Exit polls show more than half of Palmetto state voters were undecided a week ago. Ninety percent said the debates played a big factor in their final choice. What else was at play?
Leading up to the vote, Mitt Romney struggled with questions about his business background. Repeated calls for disclosure of his tax returns and criticism of his 15% tax rate due to his investment income had Romney on the defensive. Today he announced his 2010 tax returns will be made public tomorrow.
Rick Santorum came in third in South Carolina despite holding common ground with the southern state’s social conservatives. Nevertheless, Santorum is not giving up ahead of next week’s Florida primary. He told CNN on the weekend, “This race isn’t going to be over next week or the week after.”
Ron Paul is also gazing into the future. After a paltry 13 percent return in South Carolina, he is skipping Florida campaigning, but will press on to upcoming challenges in other states.
Is this shaping up to be a two-man race once and for all? Or is there still room for unpredictability? What do Florida Republicans desire in a candidate? What can we expect to learn from Romney’s tax returns? Will he be pressured to release returns from previous years? What was Democratic reaction to South Carolina’s results? With Gingrich as a frontrunner, what will his challengers use to undermine him?
Ken Rudin, political editor for NPR; writer of the Political Junkie blog
John McCormick, Reporter, Bloomberg News (reporting from FL)