Obama: It’s a Good Day for America

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May 2, 2011, 8:32 a.m.

A Rasmussen Re­ports (IVR) poll; con­duc­ted 10/10; sur­veyed 750 LVs; mar­gin of er­ror +/- 3.6% (re­lease, 10/12). Tested: Gov. John Lynch (D) and ‘02/‘08 NH-01 can­did­ate/ex-HHS Com­mis. John Steph­en (R).

Gen­er­al Elec­tion Match­up

- Now 9/15 8/5 5/26 4/7 3/8 J. Lynch 53% 48% 50% 47% 47% 50% J. Steph­en 43 46 39 35 37 35 Oth­er 1 1 5 4 5 2 Un­dec 3 4 6 14 11 14

COLUMBIA, S.C. — This has prob­ably been the single cra­zi­est week of the 2012 cam­paign, as can­did­ates rose and fell nearly every single day.

As the voters here head to the polls for an un­usu­al Sat­urday Re­pub­lic­an party primary, here’s what I am watch­ing for.

1. Will Mitt Rom­ney put it away?

It’s easy to for­get that this state seemed a slam dunk for the former Mas­sachu­setts gov­ernor as re­cently as last week. He still has an edge in the fi­nal polling, but those same sur­veys have shown Newt Gin­grich — con­sidered polit­ic­al roadkill after los­ing badly in both Iowa and New Hamp­shire — clos­ing in. But now with two trail­ing can­did­ates off the stage, Gin­grich is count­ing on a strong fin­ish to con­vince voters down the line that this thing isn’t over — yet.

Thursday’s GOP De­bate in Char­le­ston, S.C. (CNN)

2. Is Gin­grich’s surge real?

If the former House speak­er thought he had everything but the kit­chen sink thrown at him in Iowa, it now turns out he had only got­ten a mere taste of what true scru­tiny can be. Rom­ney forces — in­clud­ing in­de­pend­ent su­per PACs — poured mil­lions of dol­lars in­to tele­vi­sion ad­vert­ising that painted Gin­grich as un­re­li­able and er­rat­ic. Sur­rog­ate spokespeople held daily con­fer­ence calls to pound the point home. Then, at week’s end, the second of Gin­grich’s three wives gran­ted un­flat­ter­ing in­ter­views to both ABC News and The Wash­ing­ton Post ques­tion­ing his mor­al char­ac­ter. Gin­grich’s re­sponse was akin to his Iowa ap­proach. At first he took the high road — he would not dig­ni­fy the in­ap­pro­pri­ate ques­tion, he as­sured me dur­ing an in­ter­view on his cam­paign bus. But hours later on the de­bate stage, he went bal­list­ic on CNN’s John King dur­ing the latest can­did­ate de­bate. How dare the me­dia even ask such a ques­tion?

The high dudgeon worked. As when he took off after Fox News ques­tion­er Juan Wil­li­ams earli­er in the week, the audi­ence jumped to its feet ap­plaud­ing.

3. Is the tea party still a force?

This state provides the first true test of 2012 tea party polit­ics. With Michele Bach­mann, Her­man Cain, and now Rick Perry out of the race, the na­ked grab for the so­cioeco­nom­ic con­ser­vat­ive voter has been without a true home. Some have flocked to Ron Paul, whose small -gov­ern­ment ar­gu­ments hold tre­mend­ous ap­peal. But oth­ers — es­pe­cially re­li­gious con­ser­vat­ives — have been drawn to Rick San­tor­um. For Rom­ney — who is widely viewed as too mod­er­ate for this crowd — to win, the tea parti­ers will have to re­main split. Since by some counts there are more than 100 tea party groups in South Car­o­lina, this might not be so hard to do.

South Car­o­lina Gov­ernor Nikki Haley (right) en­dorsed Mitt Rom­ney in Decem­ber. (CNN)

4. Can Nikki Haley de­liv­er?

See tea party above. Haley’s de­cision to en­dorse Rom­ney was de­signed in part to sig­nal to con­ser­vat­ives that he was OK. When she was elec­ted gov­ernor here, Haley’s was one of the tea party’s biggest 2010 vic­tor­ies, and she won Sarah Pal­in’s bless­ing. But Haley’s pop­ular­ity has waned some­what at home, and it was Pal­in who an­nounced this week that she would vote for Gin­grich if she lived here, if only to keep the race go­ing. That could eas­ily hap­pen.

5. When will we tire of de­bates?

Ap­par­ently not soon enough. It can cer­tainly be ar­gued that Gin­grich owes his sur­pris­ing re­sur­gence to his star turn at the first of this week’s two South Car­o­lina de­bates. But on closer scru­tiny, it’s clear these can­did­ate for­ums start off flashy and fade fast. Do you re­mem­ber any­thing that happened after the Gin­grich-King clash dur­ing the first minutes on Thursday night? But, pre­pare your­self. As Bill Clin­ton was fond of say­ing, everything’s been said but every­one hasn’t yet said it. There’s a Flor­ida de­bate in St Peters­burg. sched­uled for next Monday.

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