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Is there a path to victory for Gingrich?

abc_santorum_gingrich_perryToday Newt Gingrich urged the other two conservative candidates, Rick Santorum and Rick Perry, to drop out of the race so conservative voters can rally around a single “anti-Romney” candidate. Of course, you can just imagine how much support he got from the other candidates on that suggestion. “It’s an enormous amount of hubris for someone who lost their first two races, who thinks enough of themselves –- because a couple of polls have him at this moment in time ahead of me –- that everybody should step aside and let him, who hasn’t defeated me in two of the elections so far, to let him have a wide berth,” said Santorum. While there’s a certain amount of arrogance to Gingrich’s suggestion, is there some validity to his claim that he is the only candidate capable of beating Romney?

The latest poll conducted by Rasmussen Reports in South Carolina show Romney with a clear lead in the race, drawing 35%. Gingrich follows with 21%, Santorum and Paul with 16%, with Rick Perry trailing the pack at 5%. Huntsman had not announced his departure from the race when the poll was taken and drew 5%. It’s widely expected the majority of those votes would shift to Romney. So, if you follow Gingrich’s claim it would be almost a statistical dead heat between Romney and Gingrich. Ron Paul, the anomaly in the race, could pick up some of the conservative votes but highly unlikely, based on other polling data by PPP. When looking at 2nd choice candidates Paul polls only better than Huntsman with Santorum and Perry voters.

But when we start to look beyond South Carolina to see if there might be a path without Santorum and Perry, it doesn’t look much different than South Carolina. In fact, it may start to degrade for Gingrich. The latest Florida poll conducted by PPP shows Romney at 41%, Gingrich at 26%, Santorum at 11%, Paul at 10%, and Perry at 4%. Add the Santorum and Perry numbers to Gingrich and, once again, a statistical dead heat. 2nd choices for both Santorum and Perry favor Gingrich but not overwhelmingly.

Then there’s the perception factor. When asked if the election were between Romney and Gingrich, Romney wins 50-38. Looking at the demographics of Florida, it appears to more moderately conservative, less Tea Party, and slightly less evangelical Christian, an environment that is less favorable to Gingrich than in South Carolina. Couple that with the “winner” factor Romney will most likely pick up (remember, no nominee has ever won all three of the early states) and Romney’s lead in Florida will most likely improve.

While we don’t have the latest financial data, most likely Romney is still sitting pretty comfortable going into Florida, an expensive state for campaigns. Estimates are that a solid Florida campaign can easily run $4 million a week. While Gingrich has picked up some big donors for his Super PAC, most likely he’s not as well situated as Romney. Super PACs have been having a significant effect on voter perception of candidates this year and Florida will probably be no different.

But what if Gingrich wins South Carolina? That could change some of the dynamics of the race but only moderately. It won’t have the dramatic effect Gingrich will need to carry him in Florida. Remember, the demographics don’t favor Gingrich in the state so a South Carolina win will probably only give him a small bump in numbers. It could improve his fundraising efforts, helping him compete more closely with Romney. But then there’s the Paul factor, who seems more focused on Gingrich than Romney.

So, while Gingrich’s call for consolidation is worth considering, the path to victory is not as strong as he’s trying to make it. Besides, I personally don’t think it’ll happen.

Update – 1/17/2012 8:15 p.m. – Nate Silver further expands on Romney’s position in the polls and his chances of securing the nomination. Silver contends that there is about a 45% swing vote looking for the ideal candidate. While they may not have locked on Romney, at this point, they also haven’t solidified behind one of the conservatives or Paul. The field may be telling us they don’t have their perfect candidate in the field but Romney’s not a bad second choice. As Silver said “These voters were telling pollsters all along that Mr. Romney was an acceptable option. It may be for want of a better alternative, but they are now exercising that choice.”

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