Steffen Schmidt, IAFC Blogger
Steffen W. Schmidt, University Professor of Political Science and Public Policy at Iowa State University, WNYC blogger, and chief Political correspondent of Insider Iowa.
We know that Newt Gingrich blew away a huge double digit victory in South Carolina winning by 44 percent, with only 26 percent going for Mitt Romney.
Washington Post reporter Marjorie Connelly explained Gingrich's win in a column on Sunday morning:
Concerns about the economy, the desire to defeat President Obama and Newt Gingrich’s performance in the recent debates helped voters in the South Carolina Republican primary make their decisions.
A group of my fellow political watchers and I came up with the following theories as to why Newt's campaign had a unpredictable upswing in the last few days of the state's contest:
Gingrich talked about making kids in poor schools (read black and Hispanic) work as janitors and in the cafeteria. When he was drilled on that by a black journalist Juan Williams he pushed back hard to huge applause.
Gingrich calls Obama the "Welfare President" and talks about how Obama has increased food stamps (going so far as to call him "the best food stamp president") and welfare more than any other president in history.
In South Carolina the Confederate Stars and Bars flag still flies on many people's homes and there is an eerie racial tension which is more than obvious when one lives there as I have three months out of the each year for the past four years.
Beyond that, these southerners are nationalists and don't want to be told what to do, for whom to vote by Texas Christan Evangelical leaders or by anyone else for that matter.
Few people would say they voted for Newt and not Mitt because a Catholic is more acceptable than a Mormon any day of the week. I actually heard numerous folks interviewed over the week leading up to the vote who said so - "Mormonism is not a Christian religion," they averred.
Gingrich went for the jugular vein of CNN's John King when King asked him about his "open marriage" while having an affair. It got Gingrich the biggest applause and a standing, roaring ovation of any candidate in the second South Carolina debate. Is it because South Carolinian like philanderers? No. Is it because they hate the mainstream media and CNN especially? Y'all had better believe it!
Did voters go for Newt because he was NOT a smooth, slick North Easterner like Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum? Absolutely. South Carolina was the first state to secede from the Union and launched the civil war. They are the beating heart of the real South.
Newt played to that as a neighbor from Georgia. There is a long sociology of many South Carolinians disliking slick, rich Yankees, many of whom come and strut their stuff in Charleston, buying up and restoring the gorgeous Charleston homes, and the "low country" resorts.
None of these were directly tested in exit polls. None of these COULD have been asked in face-to-face exit polls because they are not socially and politically acceptable. But it would be incorrect and naive to ignore these factors in the South Carolina contest.