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Opportunists could rule in 'nervous' America

  • 31 January 2012

Sometime tomorrow, we will know who won the Florida Republican primary — and by how much.

Primaries are voluntary stateheld contests, in which party members can vote for their preferred presidential candidate. In Florida, with third and fourth runners Rick Santorum and Ron Paul standing aside, it is a two-man battle.

A Newt Gingrich Republican candidacy for president is still possible. Six days ago — after Gingrich's unexpected but decisive primary victory over Mitt Romney in small, poor, redneck South Carolina — a credible CNN poll showed them neck to neck in Florida. Latest polls claim Romney has pulled ahead, 42 per cent to 31 per cent.

But it's still an open contest: in a highly volatile and emotive climate, no one really knows who will cast votes, or where the floating pro-Santorum and pro-Paul votes might go.

Populous, politically and ethnically diverse Florida really matters in the Republican primary process. Florida is a litmus test of the American electorate; and 50 Republican primary votes. If Romney wins in Florida but not by much, Gingrich will stay in the race, and Santorum and Paul will face important choices running up to Super Tuesday, 6 March, when 24 states hold simultaneous primaries.

If Gingrich pulls off an against-the-current-odds win in Florida, it is probably the end for Romney.

The real danger of a Gingrich candidacy has thrown both 'old' (East Coast moderates) and 'new' (Midwestern and Western new money, post-Bush) conservatives into action. The Republican party machine now sees that Gingrich could be their party's presidential candidate. A welter of conservative criticism has thus descended on him.

Gingrich is an authentic wild card populist politician: clever, experienced, quick-thinking, charismatic but erratic. Some former colleagues warn that he cannot be trusted to lead the party or the country. A few days ago, an anonymous admirer who has negotiated with him in Congress commented: 'Newt's absolutely brilliant ... He has 100 ideas; 97 are real good, the other three will blow up the world.'

A top deputy to Gingrich during the Republican revolution of the mid-1990s, Tom DeLay said:

'What has been said about Newt is pretty much true. He had to step down because ... conservative Republicans wouldn't vote for him again as speaker