Mitt Romney: Down but not out? Photo credit: Gage Skidmore, http://flic.kr/p/9itVJF
Has the Republican presidential nomination become a two-man race? Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and once-time House Speaker Newt Gingrich have dominated headlines over the past few weeks; many commentators suggested the latest debate ahead of the Florida primary did little to reverse that trend, with Romney and Gingrich commanding the most attention through a series of heated exchanges. Rick Santorum and Texas Congressman Ron Paul remain in the race, but GOP-watchers said their campaigns are fading.
Romney’s frontrunner status took a serious knock after Gingrich won a decisive victory in the South Carolina primary and the former Massachusetts governor was stripped of his win in the Iowa caucus. What’s more, Romney has faced a series of attacks from his GOP rivals over wealth accrued from his time at private equity firm Bain Capital and his failure to disclose tax returns.
Romney and Gingrich swap roles. “In most of the past debates, Gingrich has been the attack dog, biting the leg of Romney or whatever debate monitor happened to be on the stage. But now it was Romney, the former frontrunner, on the offensive, and Gingrich trying to brush off his attacks,” reported Howard Kurtz for The Daily Beast. According to Kurtz, the Romney-Gingrich sparring only serves to help the Democrats: “The Obama campaign team must have enjoyed Monday’s debate, since the two leading candidates wound up scratched and scuffed.”
Tough talk plays well with GOP. “A certain percentage of the Republican electorate will vote for the toughest pugilist, the one who channels the Grand Old Party’s id,” wrote Michael Scherer at Time’s Swampland blog, suggesting that Romney did poorly in South Carolina after he shrugged off the tough persona he had adopted for Iowa. “The Romney of South Carolina was something different. He still talked tough about Barack Obama, but seemed baffled by Gingrich… The alpha became the beta, and the beta in Republican politics always loses. Almost always,” said Scherer.
“Pretty disappointed that so far Romney has not made any physical contact with Gingrich, much less one that would result in a little bubble over his head saying ‘BONK’,” wrote Elspeth Reeve on The Atlantic Wire’s Republican debate liveblog.
Romney v. Gingrich. “Rick Santorum has worked hard over the last several weeks to remind people that this isn’t a two-man race and has consistently blamed the media for prematurely narrowing the field,” said Adam Aigner-Treworgy and Rachel Streitfeld on a CNN blog. But the social conservative presidential hopeful is having trouble getting that message across, said Aigner-Treworgy and Streitfeld: Santorum launched two strong attacks against his rivals during the debate but “neither seemed to really have the potential for shaking up the current state of the race in Florida”.
Two-man race. “Romney and Gingrich are locked in a potential death match in next week’s Florida primary, as each man recognizes the expensive mega-state contest could give the other a decisive advantage,” wrote Alexander Burns at Politico. According to Burns, Santorum and Paul were reduced to “a supporting role” during the debate.
Romney’s taxing troubles. After a series of debate attacks from Gingrich over his personal wealth and failure to disclose tax returns, Romney released financial documents that reveal he had a income of £20.9 million in 2011, according to The Washington Post. The former Massachusetts governor’s tax bill looks likely to lose him voter sympathy: “For 2011, Romney estimates that he will pay about $3.2 million, for an effective rate of 15.4 percent. That’s in line with his earlier estimates, but sharply lower than the rates paid by President Obama and Romney’s closest Republican rival, Newt Gingrich,” reported The Washington Post.