Newt ‘The Comeback Granddaddy’ Gingrich is on his way to Sunshine State today, propelled by a stunning upset victory that has turned the Republican 2012 race on its head.
The next 10 days will be crucial for the former House Speaker, who is up for a bloody and expensive fight with Mitt Romney. The former Massachusetts Governor suffered a serious thrashing last night, and will use his impressive organizational and fundraising strength to try and muscle Gingrich out of the race in Florida.
But Gingrich has also been quietly picking up steam, with a grassroots organisation that has tapped into Florida’s active Tea Party. He will also get the benefit of tons of free media this week, coming off his latest resurgence.
Here are 6 things to watch for in Florida:
The Money: Gingrich’s fundraising has spiked over the past few days, according to a campaign spokesman, and he is sure to get a big cash boost from his win last night. Florida is a pricey media state, so Gingrich’s ability to compete will depend on how much money he — and the pro-GIngrich SuperPAC — can raise, and how fast he can do it.
This is where Rick Perry’s endorsement could come in handy. The Texas Governor is still a fundraising powerhouse and most of those deep-pocketed donors aren’t tapped out yet. Sources close to the Gingrich campaign told Business Insider that Perry has promised to lend a hand in this area, and the money has already started to come in.
Still, the former House Speaker has a long way to go to catch up to his rival’s huge campaign war chest and Romney is likely to get some big donations from Republican Establishment-types.
The Debates: After a little waffling, Romney realised he couldn’t hide and finally committed to the two debates in Florida this week. This will be Gingrich’s chance to take his rival down a few pegs. But expectations are sky-high after Thursday’s John King smackdown, so Gingrich will have a lot to live up to. If he can pull it off though, he will probably be in pretty good shape come Jan. 31.
Exit polls from the past three primaries have indicated that electing a candidate who can beat President Barack Obama is one of the most important priorities for Republican primary voters, so the debates could make or break either of the candidates.
Rick Scott: Florida’s first-term governor would probably be wise keep his options open and avoid taking sides in the Mitt-Newt war. But Scott is close to Rick Perry, and sources close to the Gingrich campaign say the candidate has already reached out to the Florida Governor for an endorsement. Scott, like Romney, comes from the private sector — healthcare no less! — so he could be an effective attack dog against Romney on both of those fronts.
The problem with Scott’s endorsement is that people in Florida don’t really like him these days — so Gingrich would be wise to avoid parading him around to every campaign event a la Romney/Nikki Haley. Still, Gingrich getting Scott’s endorsement means that Romney won’t get his endorsement — and that’s probably enough to make it worthwhile.
Marco Rubio: It seems totally unlikely that Rubio will formally endorse either of the candidates, but that won’t stop the media from watching his every move and word for some kind of hint as to which way he is leaning.
Lucky for you, we’ve been watching Rubio for a while (he’s so dreamy), and have noticed he speaks very highly of Gingrich. If he keeps that up next week, Romney is in for some bad story lines — if there’s any real sign that Rubio is leaning toward Gingrich would probably be pretty demoralizing to the Romney camp. It probably doesn’t help that Rubio’s former campaign manager is running Newt’s Florida operations.
Rick Santorum: The former Pennsylvania Senator and family values champion got trounced in South Carolina, but says he’ll be in it through Florida. Given that he has won as many contests as Romney and Gingrich, he doesn’t have a lot to lose by staying in the race. That could hurt Gingrich, who is starting to solidify support with religious conservatives and other social issues voters. The longer Gingrich has to spend energy fighting Santorum, the better it is for Romney.
The Tea Party: Florida has been a huge Tea Party stronghold for the Tea Party — it played a big role in ushering Scott and Rubio into office — and the state’s primary election will likely be a good gauge of how much the movement will influence the Republican primary election. If the Tea Party fails to come out for Gingrich, it could mean that the insurgency has lost some of its bite.
Regardless of what happens in Florida, the outcome will likely to determine the future of the Republican race. Get ready for a very heated — and very dirty — next two weeks.