Aside from being a testament to the power of racist dog-whistling within Republican politics, last night's vote also displayed how weak of a candidate Mitt Romney really is even among his own party, and analysis of exit polling shows Romney has very large hurdles to clear before he even begins to lockup the nomination.
Exit poll results found that nearly two-thirds of Republican primary voters called the debates important to their vote, and they favored Gingrich over Romney by a vast 50-22 percent. More than half of voters also decided in just the last few days – more than in either Iowa or New Hampshire – and they likewise went overwhelmingly for Gingrich, by a 22-point margin over Romney, 44-22 percent.
Gingrich’s persuasiveness in the debates helped push him to an advantage even in electability, previously Romney’s strong suit. Forty-five percent of South Carolina voters were focused chiefly on the candidate who’s best able to defeat Barack Obama in November – and these voters favored Gingrich over Romney by a 14-point margin, 51-37 percent.
The exit poll, analyzed for ABC by Langer Research Associates, found that other groups in which Romney has struggled, particularly in Iowa, went heavily to Gingrich. He won very conservative voters – more than a third of the electorate – with 47 percent of their votes. Rick Santorum and Romney trailed in this group, with 24 and 19 percent, respectively. And Gingrich won 44 percent of evangelicals, who accounted for 65 percent of GOP primary voters in the state, again beating Romney and Santorum alike by more than 2-1 margins.
Two-thirds of South Carolina voters decided in the last few days which, not coincidentally, is also when Gingrich dialed up the racism to 11.
Newt's meteoric rise on the back of the southern strategy and hard-right sloganeering poses a threat to Mitt Romney within the Republican primary, and unfortunately for Mitt Romney it may be that the only way he will be able to regain ground is by responding in kind.
If Mitt Romney attempts to out-prejudice Gingrich in the primary it will compound the severe electability issues Mitt Romney has at the national level in a potential general election match-up against President Obama as the first national poll from Public Policy Polling shows us.
As prominent Tea Partiers desperately urge Republican lawmakers and Republican presidential primary voters to move further to the right, President Obama is racing ahead among independents. Public Policy Polling, delivering results today from its first national poll (pdf), reports that Obama leads GOP presidential frontrunner Mitt Romney by a solid five points and that he leads Romney by a whopping 41-point spread among moderate voters. [...]
“One thing that really stands out in this poll is the extent to which Obama has claimed the middle. He’s up 68-27 on Romney with moderates. He also leads by 20 points with voters under 45, a group there’s been some concern about slippage with, and he has a 66-30 advantage with Hispanics.” [...]
“Over the last month Romney’s seen his negatives with independents rise from 46% to 54%, suggesting that the things he has to say and do to win the Republican nomination aren’t necessarily helping him for the general. Obama’s turned what was a 45-36 deficit with independents a month ago into a 51-41 advantage.”
A 41 point lead with moderates, a 20 point lead among young voters, and a 24 point lead among Hispanics.
The first number, a 41 point lead with moderates, displays just how grueling the Republican primary has been to a supposedly-moderate candidate like Mitt Romney who has reversed nearly every position he's ever held in an effort to appeal to the Lunatic Base.
And this grueling primary may not end anytime soon if other southern states continue to be as receptive to Newt Gingrich's howling as South Carolina was. Mitt Romney may adopt the same strategy, however it won't come off as genuine to those on the left, right, or middle. It's already well-established that Newt Gingrich is a raging prick, but Mitt Romney simply isn't believable.