Last night’s debate in Jacksonville, Florida was the 19th of this campaign.
“Here it comes, here it comes, here comes your 19th nervous breakdown…”
The Rolling Stones quip probably represents how many people feel after last night’s debate. However, if the performance and surrounding polls are any indication, it could end up being the final debate the public is shown in this nominating contest.
Newt Gingrich again looked off the mark and slightly rattled in the debate last night, often fumbling for a response to a surprisingly effective Mitt Romney. Romney was able to smoothly answer questions about immigration and housing, even turning the tables on Gingrich in several cases for “divisive” advertisements that had been condemned earlier in the day by Sen. Marco Rubio, among others.
“Whoever wins the nomination is going to have to come back to Florida and try to win here again.” said Sen. Rubio. “We have to make sure that we don’t have candidates saying things that we’re going to have to come back and defend later.”
Rick Santorum and Ron Paul also took part in the debate but often found themselves on the sidelines, as the affair seemed to focus on the two leading contenders. Santorum is even expected to return to Virginia and Pennsylvania this weekend for fundraisers, to compete in later states’ caucuses.
Two weeks ago, before the South Carolina primary, Romney led Gingrich 40% to 18%. After South Carolina, Gingrich was ahead in Rasmussen polling 41% to 32%. Now, the race has shifted back to either a dead heat or a slight Romney lead, depending on the source. Furthermore, the negative advertising throughout the state has had the effect of tuning out most voters to any of the candidates, leaving the debate as the main vehicle to get a good idea of the candidate.
Based on that, it would be safe to assume that Gingrich may have lost a lot with his debate performance last night. His unease last night, compared with the confident and strong manner Romney put forth, may be enough to push Romney to a six or seven point victory in the state. A decisive victory could give Romney momentum which should continue through several Western primaries, setting Romney up to grab the lion’s share of delegates on Super Tuesday.
While the debate last night didn’t necessarily finish the Gingrich campaign, it may have the final effect of putting it in a very difficult position. However, it may also spare viewers from a 20th debate held elsewhere.