The Republican presidential contest took yet another unexpected turn last night with Rick Santorum’s sweep of the Missouri primary and Minnesota and Colorado caucuses.  While Romney spent little time or money in these states compared to Florida and South Carolina, the results showed the continued weakness in the Romney campaign.

Since these contests were essentially beauty contests with no delegates being awarded, the losses still had to sting for Romney who is the front-runner that can’t seal the deal.

To be honest Romney wasn’t expected to really win Missouri or Minnesota with their strong Evangelical bases, but he was hoping to score a victory in Colorado, but was undone by the delegates lack of confidence in his conservatism.

In the grand scheme of things this is more of a PR hit for Romney than anything else, but it leaves open the question of why he can’t get Republican voters to coalesce behind his candidacy. On the other hand it also continues to keep both Santorum and Gingrich in the race as we head to Super Tuesday on March 6 and what will probably be the make or break time for the GOP.

Even if Romney wins a majority of the delegates next month, it is also likely that Gingrich and Santorum to a lesser degree will come away with enough delegates to remain a threat to Romney’s chances of winning the nomination outright.

Romney may be a successful businessman, but he has failed to translate that success into the teflon candidate he needs to be.  Unforced errors have provided plenty of ammunition for not just his Republican competition, but also the Democrats.

Will a long drawn out campaign hurt the GOP?  Not necessarily as the nominee should emerge as a more battle-hardened candidate and be better able to go toe-to-toe with Obama in the fall.  At the same time the nastier the battle gets, the higher the likelihood that the Republican nominee will emerge so bloodied and bruised that he won’t have the ability to compete against what no doubt will be a very powerful Democratic machine that will go all out to keep Obama in the White House.

The GOP’s biggest problem right now though is a slowly recovering economy that is giving Obama a boost as consumer confidence grows that things have actually turned around.

We may still have unemployment above 8% and growth of less than 2%, but voters cast their ballots on perception rather than reality and if the perception is that things are turning around, the Obama will gain the upper hand in November.

Four years ago Romney was the anti-McCain and benefited greatly from that position even if he didn’t win the nomination.  Now he he is the John McCain of 2012 and conservatives just can’t bring themselves to support someone who has a very moderate record as a politician, no matter if he is espousing a more conservative view today.

Like McCain who beat off the Romney challenge four years ago, Romney should be able to fend off Gingrich and Santorum  as his money and organization should carry the day though the road ahead will be bumpy for at least the next four weeks.

 

After engineering one of the greatest political comebacks the week before in South Carolina, capped by a stunningly large victory in the state’s GOP primary, Newt Gingrich has uncharacteristically stumbled this week as he heads into Tuesday’s important Florida vote.

Gingrich who has proclaimed that he is the best debater and showed both his debate political skills last Thursday when he turned a potentially embarrassing question on his second marriage into an attack on CNN’s John King and the mainstream media has had a week only slightly better than Mitt Romney’s bad South Carolina week.

In the first Florida debate this week on Monday night, NBC’s Brian Williams, took away one of Gingrich’s best weapons when he silenced the crowd before the debate began, which led to a rather dull session and the normally fiery Gingrich acting and looking like a neutered puppy.

And just like Romney who had a bad first debate in South Carolina and followed it up with an almost equally bad second debate, Gingrich’s performance last night was disappointing as he failed to land any significant punches at Romney.

Gingrich did try for a “John King moment” with CNN moderator Wolf Blitzer, but Blitzer is no patsy and rather than play Newt’s game continued to press the former Speaker and gained the upper hand.

Newt has had other problems in Florida, including the removal of an ad that called Romney “anti-immigrant” after Sen. Marco Rubio complained about the ad.

Gingrich also lost on his argument that Romney had sizable investments in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which Romney explained were mostly through mutual funds and pointed out that Gingrich also had investments in these same companies in funds he owned.

This isn’t to say that Romney had smooth sailing during the debates this week, but overall his combativeness seemed to put Newt into more of a defensive crouch and I expect that the next set of polls that will be taken to reflect last night’s debate will show the momentum has shifted back to Romney as a critical time in the campaign.

Rick Santorum may have had said it best when he asked Gingrich and Romney to call off the personal attacks and get to the issues.

Until they do, Obama and the DNC can sit back and watch the sideshow that has become the GOP presidential race.

The GOP presidential primary debates which had been building a pretty good head of steam in the ratings last year, started to show signs of viewer fatigue this year until Monday’s NBC debate reversed the decline.

Conservatives and other observers had criticized the debate for the slow plodding pace and the questions that were asked in the second hour that covered subjects that had little or no national importnace at a time when the economy and jobs are foremost on voters minds.

Yet despite the complaints and my own prediction that the debate would continue the downtrend in the ratings, it turns out NBC attracted one of the largest audiences to date and shattered the previous high in the key A25-54 demo by a wide margin.

Initial ratings show that 7.1 million viewers tuned in to watch Brian Williams grill the remaining GOP candidates ranking 2nd only behind the ABC debate on December 10 of last year in the current cycle.  Even better for NBC were the nearly 2.6 million viewers in the key A25-54 demo that advertisers crave, easily beating the previous high of 2.1 million set by ABC.

While the format was a little different- Williams had in essence silenced the audience, NBC benefited greatly from Newt Gingrich’s stunning South Carolina primary victory last week which turned the GOP race into a fierce fight.

It also didn’t hurt that Gingrich had a very successful debate last Thursday, when he blasted CNN’s John King for starting the debate off with a question about his second wife’s charges that Newt wanted an “open marriage” which raised the roof and may have raised the hopes of those watching on Monday that Gingrich would take a similar stab at Brian Williams.

But it didn’t happen and instead viewers were treated to one of the worst debates of the election cycle.

Yet with those ratings NBC isn’t about to complain.

Mitt Romney handily won the New Hampshire primary last night and became the first Republican to win both the Iowa Caucus and the New Hampshire primary in the same year.

The victory came despite a heavy barrage of attacks on Romney’s time as the CEO of  private equity firm Bain Capital where Romney accumulated most of his overall wealth.

While there is nothing wrong in attacking an opponent, it is the level and intensity of the attacks launched by Newt Gingrich that have raised the ire of conservatives.

Gingrich who promised to run a positive campaign in Iowa and was largely undone by Romney’s SuperPAC ads, put on his boxing gloves and hit Romney with Super PAC ads of his own as well as statements on the campaign trail that heavily criticized the former Massachusetts governor for the tactics Bain used in buying and restructuring companies while he was CEO.

The problem with the attacks is that they in essence criticized Romney for being a capitalist and served only to delight Democrats for having done the work for them.

Romney, who is the current front-runner for the Republican nomination spent the last week fending off the criticism, and it didn’t appear to hurt him too much if at all in New Hampshire, but if Gingrich keeps this up, it could seriously wound Romney’s campaign as he heads to South Carolina.

While Gingrich foundered in new Hampshire and is liming into South Carolina, he has managed to raise the ire of Rush Limbaugh and other conservatives who claim that the ads, as well as a forthcoming mini-movie are not helping the GOP, but doing the work of Obama and the DNC for them.   Others have compared Gingrich to members of the Occupy movement by labeling Romney as a “one-percenter” at a time when that has a largely negative connotation.

Even Rick Perry who is barely hanging on at this point has called Romney a “vulture capitalist” and not a “venture capitalist”.

As the Wall Street Journal pointed out, many of the companies Bain invested in during Romney’s tenure went bust, but several were very successful.  Bain had hoped that most if not all their investments would be successful and profitable, but they also knew that they were investing in distressed companies and that nothing is guaranteed.

It’s never easy when people lose their jobs and companies go out of business, but that is our system.  Bain wanted to make their investments work out for all involved, but sometimes businesses are just too far gone for that to occur.

If Romney wins the nomination and the right to face President Obama in November, you can bet that after watching Gingrich’s ability to ding Romney on his role at Bain, it will be a central part of the Democrats campaign against him.

All the Republicans have to do is look and see how giddy Chris Matthews and the gang are at MSNBC as well as Obama’s own advisers to know that they the anti-Bain campaign will come back to haunt them in November.

The much anticipated debate between Republican presidential nominees Mitt Romney and Rick Perry (and a few others)  took place last night and the results were largely as expected with the two top nominees duking it out leaving the other candidates fighting for their table scraps.

Romney who is more experienced in the debate arena than Perry as a result of his presidential run in 2008 held his own and didn’t make any major mistakes though his answer to a question on whether or not he was a member of the Tea Party was a cop out.

Perry who will probably get better as time goes by disappointed the liberal media with a solid performance and not coming off as a country bumpkin though his calling of Social Security a Ponzi scheme will undoubtedly raise a few eyebrows in states like Florida with a large senior citizen population.

Ron Paul showed that he deserves to be a part of the conversation if for nothing more than he knows Rick Perry better than anyone else in the GOP field and isn’t afraid to go on the offensive against the current front runner.

Michele Bachmann who won the Ames, Iowa straw poll appeared to be lost as she tried to find the voice that made her a media phenom earlier in the campaign and stumbled badly when asked a question about illegal immigration.

Jon Huntsman only enhanced his RINO credentials when he went criticized the other candidates for refusing to recognize global warming as a threat and supporting the theory of evolution.  He also said a conservative candidate couldn’t win the presidency which should signal the end of his campaign but probably won’t just yet.

Newt Gingrich probably got in one of the best lines of the night when he accused the moderator, John Harris of Politico of ” trying to get Republicans to fight with each other,” with his line of questioning.  But overall Gingrich showed he is still a policy wonk at heart who sounds good but puts everyone to sleep.

Herman Cain who has been wowing crowds with his speeches but has polled poorly didn’t do much to rise above the rest of the field and may have hurt his chances when he said that we need to fix FEMA and TSA rather than abolish them or use a free market solution.  That’ s all we need is to keep throwing more good money after bad.

Rick Santorum looked very concerned, worried or constipated and didn’t do anything to improve his chances of winning the nomination and makes me wonder why he is in the race except to feed his own ego.  Then again the same can probably be said of many of the candidates.

With several more debates scheduled it might be nice to have an American Idol elimination vote so that we can narrow the field and get to some more serious discussion of the issues rather than this merry-go-round format that is necessitated by a bloated field.

In the end the debates might give voters a clearer view of who they will want to support but the eventual nominee will still have to win the primaries next year and what they said last night might easily be forgotten in a few months when the real battle begins.

On last night’s Hardball program host Chris Matthews compared Newt Gingrich tocomedian and actor Orson Bean.

Considering that Bean is 82-years old I’m not sure how many of Matthews’ viewers  know who Bean is.

Is Matthews right or is he off base once again?