Gingrich Buoyed by Win, Preps for Two-Man Race

Gingrich Buoyed by Win, Preps for Two-Man Race

By Caitlin Huey-Burns - January 22, 2012

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Newt Gingrich is now convinced he has this Republican presidential race right where he always wanted it to be: as a two-man contest between himself and Mitt Romney.

The former House speaker won the South Carolina primary Saturday night by 12 points with 40 percent of the vote, slowing the presumed Romney juggernaut and relegating Rick Santorum’s win in Iowa and Ron Paul’s second-place finish in New Hampshire to afterthoughts. Those two men vowed to continue after finishing a distant third and fourth here Saturday, but all eyes were on Gingrich, who now heads to Florida with momentum and a full complement of his unparalleled self-confidence.

Gingrich's victory party here was exactly that -- a real celebration. A DJ warmed up the hundreds of people -- many visibly sweating -- packed into the steamy Hilton Hotel ballroom here with songs like "We Like to Party" and " Bad to the Bone," and encouraged the crowd to "make some noise, y'all." It was quite the opposite of the virtual wakes that followed his abysmal finishes in Iowa and New Hampshire.

But when he finally took to the stage Saturday night, nearly 2 ½ hours after the win had been declared his, Gingrich appeared restrained and thankful, complimenting each of his rivals by name -- even Mitt Romney, whom he called a "good example of an American."

"It is very humbling," Gingrich said, "to have so many people who so deeply want their country to get back on the right track."

With Romney slowed, the campaign moves to the larger, more diverse -- and more expensive -- state of Florida, where deep pockets and an organization strong enough to compete in 11 media markets are more important than the retail campaigning Gingrich thrived at in South Carolina. Romney's campaign and a super PAC working on his behalf have already purchased ads in the Sunshine State. Gingrich hosted a tele-town hall with Florida voters Saturday while still in South Carolina, but hasn't hit the airwaves there. 

The campaign insists its candidate, though, has already beaten financial odds. "In South Carolina, Gingrich was outspent 2 to 1 by Romney and his allies, which potentially bodes well for Gingrich in Florida,” said Kevin Kellems, senior communications strategist for Gingrich. "Governor Romney’s campaign is now showing real signs of being off-balance and nervous; there must be a reason for it."  Former South Carolina Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer, who endorsed Gingrich, told RCP that the "disproportionate ratio of money" will be the greatest challenge for the former House speaker in Florida, which holds its primary on Jan. 31.

Knowing what lies ahead, Gingrich spent part of his victory speech asking South Carolinians for assistance as he moves forward.

"With your help, we're now moving on to Florida and beyond," he said. "By the way, if anyone here knows anyone in Florida, please contact them by tomorrow."

The rest of his comments were mostly a recitation of his standard stump speech -- railing against the "media elites," criticizing the president for holding up construction of the Keystone XL crude oil pipeline, and calling for an expansion of domestic energy "so that no American president bows to a Saudi king."

The enthusiastic crowd at Gingrich’s South Carolina headquarters fancied that they had just helped choose the GOP’s general election candidate. But forces loyal to Barack Obama were unconvinced. Despite Gingrich's win on Saturday, Democrats didn’t waver from focusing their attacks on Romney, as they have done through much of the current election cycle. Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who was at the Gingrich headquarters doing television interviews, told RCP her party doesn't plan on adjusting its strategy.

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Caitlin Huey-Burns is a congressional reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @CHueyBurnsRCP.

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