Editor's note: Tune in to AC360° at 8 and 10 p.m. ET for a special report on Callista Gingrich, the wife of Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich.
On the campaign trail this year, Callista Gingrich has been mostly seen, not heard. Newt Gingrich's second wife, Marianne, famously broke her years-long silence last month with a splashy, tell-all interview, but his current spouse kept mostly mum - a silent, supportive, perfectly-coiffed presence just behind the candidate.
Today, she spoke up. Her remarks may have been low-key - a simple introduction speech for her husband - but the venue wasn't: the high-profile Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, packed with the Republican activists her husband desperately needs to rally to his side to keep his campaign afloat.
And we're going to hear a lot more from her in the days to come: the Gingrich campaign said today she'll be taking on a more high-profile role on the trail, relaying her husband's "softer side" - and providing a sorely-needed assist in his battle to win over women voters.
E ven if you just tuned in long enough Tuesday night to see his victory speech in a half-empty Denver ballroom, you could tell Mitt Romney had a bad night. If you started watching just a bit earlier, you saw him lose Minnesota, a state he won in 2008. You saw him trailing in every county in Missouri on his way to a bruising loss there. And a few minutes later, you saw him lose in Colorado - a state he dominated in 2008, when his 60% of the vote was more than three times the share of runner-up John McCain.
Based on his 2008 results, Republicans were feeling good about taking back the state this fall, with Romney at the top of the ticket. And heading into Tuesday, Romney could afford to think about pivoting to more of a general election-orientation. No more.
Romney’s loss in Missouri wasn’t unexpected; it’s a state he didn’t win four years ago, with a major evangelical bloc - the ideal audience for Rick Santorum’s pitch – and its accidental “beauty contest” primary this year made it an easy write-off. (Gingrich didn’t even bother getting on the ballot.) Minnesota’s a quirky contest; Romney won it four years ago, but it was seen as anyone’s game.
Colorado was different – which is why the Romney campaign had downplayed the other votes, telling reporters to focus on the state. And that’s what made a Romney loss there all the more damaging. The big question now: how much of Romney’s win four years ago was due to his status as the top alternative to the frontrunner – the role played last night by Santorum. This morning, Romney’s campaign, which had come out swinging against Santorum over the past day or two, focused its fire on Newt Gingrich instead. Maintaining Gingrich’s status as a top conservative contender – keeping the anti-Romney vote as divided as possible – just got a whole lot more important for the former Massachusetts governor.
He may be a non-gambler, but Mitt Romney had a good night in Vegas. He left town as the night's big winner, capturing his second strong victory in a row.
The result was no surprise; but the blocs he won on his way to a majority of the vote were.
This is a state where nearly half of Republicans describe themselves as not just conservative, but "very conservative." It's also a closed primary, where the only voters weighing in are part of the Republican base. But Romney decisively captured conservatives, tea partiers and evangelicals on his way to a win.
Just how big was Romney's win? It was so dominant he drew more support than the rest of the field combined. A quarter of Saturday's voters were Mormon, and 9 in 10 of those voters backed Romney. However,as his campaign was quick to point out, even if you take those voters out of the mix, the former Massachusetts governor would still have walked away with a double-digit advantage.
There were a few sour notes for Romney tonight. One of the few groups he lost were self-identified independents - a bloc Republicans need to win big to beat President Obama in this battleground state come this fall. That group went instead to Ron Paul.
Here's how big Mitt Romney's Florida win may be tonight: So big, he was able to win voting blocs he's often struggled to capture so far this year - groups like men, young voters and the middle class. Voters cited him as the candidate most likely to understand average Americans' problems. And late breaking voters broke his way.
So who didn't get swept away in the Romney romp?
You can start with the Tea Party. Romney pulled a respectable 33% among voters who strongly support the Tea Party, according to early exit polls - but that showing pales in comparison to the 46% captured by Newt Gingrich. The 7% of voters whose most important issue this year was abortion overwhelmingly backed Gingrich over Romney, 44 to 24%. So did voters looking for a true conservative: they picked Gingrich over Romney by a greater than 4-to-1 margin.
In other words: the exit polls suggest the party's most conservative voters still haven't warned to Romney just yet. But there are signs of movement: voters who believe abortion should be illegal backed both men in equal numbers. Evangelicals gave a slight 3-point edge to Gingrich - but Romney nearly closed that massive gap. And in the Panhandle - the state's most conservative region - the two men are neck-and-neck at 38%.
“The bottom line: Regardless of the message the Romney campaign wants to push and the media wants to deliver, this race is just getting started.” - memo from Michael Baker, Gingrich campaign political director, January 30.
I woke up this morning to an “internal campaign memo” mass-blasted to reporters that talked the long game and proportional delegate count. It all just felt so....familiar.
You may have heard that Republicans decided the 2008 Democratic death match was such a great idea, they’ve changed their delegate apportionment rules to increase the odds of this kind of state-by-state slog. Ron Paul’s been pledging one for a while now. And early this morning, that “internal memo” from Newt Gingrich campaign’s political director laid out his team’s road map of the months ahead. For a road that runs through Super Tuesday and March, and leads to the April vote in Texas and beyond.
So my first reaction was a PTSD flash to the period four years ago when those of us in the Political Unit went five months without a single full day off (cue tiny violins). My second thought, once the queasiness wore off: Huzzah! More frequent flier miles for everyone. I know one producer who earned enough points last time around for a free three-week vacation.
But as appealing as the thought of Puerto Rico in March might be (A note to my boss: they vote March 18. I think we should embed now and beat the rush), this isn’t 2008.
If you’re looking for a haven of sanity and logic, Florida wouldn’t necessarily be your first stop. But Republicans have got no choice: Tuesday’s vote may be the party’s last shot at imposing order on the spiraling chaos of the primary season. So far, signs aren’t promising.
The GOP race looks like a dead heat in the CNN Florida poll released yesterday, with Romney at 36% and Gingrich at 34%. A 25 point Romney lead in our last poll basically evaporated in just two weeks’ time.
But is the race really neck-and-neck? Maybe. Probably. But the truth is: right now, nobody really knows. We’re seeing significant day-to-day swings in the numbers, with both men trading momentum over the course of our three-day poll: Gingrich holding an undeniable advantage one day, Romney holding a significant edge the next. We’re now in uncharted territory - this late in the season, this is not how Republican presidential campaigns work.
What’s driving the numbers? The evidence isn’t all that clear-cut. But here’s one clue: unfavorable ratings for both men are rising by double-digit margins in virtually every poll. In other words, as the campaign grows bloodier by the day, it’s as though Florida Republicans wake up each morning and think to themselves: Who do I like less today?
Tonight at 9 p.m. ET, Congress - just back from its Christmas break (yes, really) - will get an update on the state of our union. There is really only one answer to this question, the same way there’s only one answer when your great-aunt asks how you’re doing. It does not matter if you’ve just been dumped; if your dog has a bizarre and untreatable personality disorder; if your car still uses a tape deck, and the cassette permanently lodged in that tape deck is late-career Rick Astley. The answer to that question is always, always “fine.” And every year, no matter what, the President of the United States reports to Congress that the state of our union is “strong.”
The speech is, at heart, just a guide to what policies the White House wants to project as its priorities. Will President Obama see any of the proposals he’ll share tonight actually become law? If you’ve been watching any CNN at all, you know the answer to that question too: Probably not. And if they do, it won’t be be this Congress that passes them. Lawmakers have been publicly speculating that partisan gridlock may make this year’s session even more unproductive than last year’s, which was already the least productive of the post-World War II era. In other words: the most spectacular achievement we can probably expect out of Capitol Hill this year is a blazingly unprecedented new standard in unachievement.
So why do we care? Is it still worth tuning in tonight? Yes, it is.
Gingrich may not have won a majority of the state's votes - but as of this moment, he's got 23 of its 25 delegates; no one else has even gotten one yet. That haul puts him back in the delegate race, trailing Romney by just 5. Up next: the January 31 Florida primary - a winner-take-all contest, with 50 delegates at stake.
More numbers to think about: Gingrich's favorability numbers nationally in the January 13 CNN/ORC poll: 28% favorable to 58% unfavorable. Among Republicans only: 49%, down 12 points from his 61% favorable rating in November.
If you've never seen it before: that was Newt Gingrich's entire stump speech, almost word for word.
Gingrich: “It’s not that I am a good debater, it’s that I articulate the deepest-felt values of the American people.”
Looking for good news for Romney tonight: a solid showing among moderates, liberals, non-evangelicals, those with incomes over $200,000, and people who do not support the Tea Party. The problem, of course, is that he was running in South Carolina.
We’re live at the mothership, CNN Center in Atlanta, all night tonight, as exit polls and returns start to roll in from South Carolina. Opinion polls tracking the Republican primary race have swung back and forth wildly in this state - and now, some of that movement's starting to show up in national surveys too. As the exit polls and vote counts come in tonight, here are a half a dozen of the numbers we'll be keeping our eye on:
Early in the night:
–We'll be looking at the percentage of voters in exit polls who say they made their decision in the race's final days. We already know Gingrich likely has the advantage with that group: most surveys have indicated a double-digit swing in his direction over the race's final week, with the trend accelerating as the race entered the home stretch. If a plurality of voters say they made their pick in the contest's closing days, it could be a good sign for Gingrich.
Now it gets interesting.
The 2012 battle shifts to South Carolina, where the air may be warmer than Manchester's...but the campaign climate's a whole lot chillier. This is the home of politics as blood sport - a sort of primary season Thunderdome. The CNN poll released Friday suggested Mitt Romney had climbed to a surprisingly strong first-place showing in the state: his 37% share of likely Republican primary voters was as much as Rick Santorum's and Newt Gingrich's combined. But with a $3+ million anti-Romney infomercial set to blanket the airwaves there for the next week-and-a-half - in a state most of the Anybody-But-Romney crowd is viewing as its Alamo - how secure is that lead?
Join Anderson Cooper Wednesday for a full rundown on the state of the race as the spotlight shifts to South Carolina. Tune in to AC360° at 8 and 10 p.m. ET Wednesday.