Politics

01.20.12

Election Oracle: Newt Riding High Before South Carolina

Behold Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House now on his third reincarnation in the GOP race. Newt has been dragged down twice, both times mostly due to his personal baggage. But the Election Oracle still shows Newt riding higher than Mitt Romney, suggesting that, on the eve of the South Carolina primary, the third surge may be the one that matters.

The Oracle, which scours 40,000 news sites, blogs, message boards, Twitter feeds, and other social-media sources to track what's being said about each man in the race, offers favorability scores for each candidate. (See methodology here.) And today's scores for Gingrich and Romney, the current frontrunners, are split. Newt stands low at 26 (on a scale for -100 to 100). But compared to Romney's 13, the web is decidedly more positive about Gingrich at such a critical juncture. Even Newt himself has said that South Carolina voters may well decide the rest of the primary race, if vote totals gave Romney a clear win.

The divide is poised to grow after Gingrich's fiery performance at a CNN presidential debate Thursday night. When the moderator, John King, asked Gingrich about the much-buzzed-about interview that Gingrich's ex wife, Marianne, gave to ABC News, Gingrich unloaded, accusing the media of being "destructive, vicious and negative." The standing ovation that followed is bound to be touted by the Gingrich campaign before South Carolina's polls open.

Romney, by comparison, had an awkward moment on Thursday, still struggling to answer questions about his tax returns. When he fillibustered a question about why he wouldn't release his financial records before Saturday's contest, some people in the audience even booed.

The one potential caveat at play is volume. Romney is still getting more mentions compared to Gingrich, but many more of them are negative. What we've learned so far from the Oracle is that volume matters -- the more people buzzing about a candidate generally helps raise his profile, even if its negative buzz, which can often garner new sympathy support. So Romney's chances in the Palmetto state are far from dim (the Oracle still gives Romney a 62 percent chance of wrapping up the nomination). Yet playing the victim card, as Gingrich did Thursday night, may well be, to borrow his former opponent John Huntsman's words, a "ticket to ride."

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