After S.C. Primary, It's a Three-Way Horse Race Between Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Santorum

Perhaps Rick Santorum said it best: “Three states. Three different winners. What a great country.”

Saturday night's results shattered all precedents, when Newt Gingrich won the South Carolina primary after being badly beaten during the first two contests. Rick Santorum won a last-minute decision in Iowa and Mitt Romney soundly trounced the competition in New Hampshire. Ron Paul has yet to make it on the scoreboard.

In the eyes of many, this is now a three-man race.

So much emphasis was placed on South Carolina, especially during the last 10 days. The victor of South Carolina has gone on to win the GOP nomination every time since 1980. In addition, no one has won the South Carolina primary without winning one of the first two contests (Iowa and New Hampshire).

During the primary coverage on Saturday night, Republican mastermind and Fox News contributor Karl Rove talked about how South Carolina had come to be the tiebreaker. One person would win Iowa while another would win New Hampshire. South Carolina would break the tie, sending the winner soaring with momentum.

All of the K Street consultants today are standing on their heads, no doubt trying to figure out why Mitt Romney or Rick Santorum didn’t come out of South Carolina with the nomination wrapped up. To everyone else, it’s just getting good.

Now that the first three are here and gone, the remaining candidates will set their sights onto the first big state in the competition: Florida, a state with a smaller evangelical population and where retail politics don’t matter as much as money and organization. Despite having half of their delegates stripped by the RNC for moving their primary up, a victory in Florida will propel the winner to striking distance of the nomination.

But wait, there’s more. There are nine contests over the next six weeks, and ten more on March 6, better known as ‘Super Tuesday.’ Of those 19, eight were won by Mitt Romney won four years ago. Two others are ones that he came in second. With his organizational and fundraising prowess, not to mention an apparent new direct attack plan towards Gingrich, only a fool would count him out.

Santorum has the social conservative credentials to appeal to stalwarts across the nation. However, a lack of money and multi-state organization could become painfully evident once Florida is over.

Gingrich has renewed momentum and will raise money, but is relying more heavily on social media than a traditional ground game. His attacks on the media will garner him support from conservatives who have had enough of a liberal slant from networks like MSNBC, CNN, ABC, and CBS, but it’s still to be determined whether he can organize quickly enough to last through Super Tuesday.

Conventional wisdom says that the nomination should be wrapped up quickly so as to focus on uniting the party. Now people feel that the prospect of a long race could be akin to something like tempering steel; the candidate will be stronger for it when all is said and done.

One thing for sure is that this is an unconventional primary. Anything can happen, and in all likelihood this will not be over quick. Whoever emerges as the victor will be hardened by a long campaign, and ready to take on Obama in the general election.

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