Three primary electoral tests for Republicans so far, three different winners. This nomination is up for grabs. If a Newt Gingrich of unparalleled personal baggage in this race can win a Republican primary in a South Carolina where such a large percentage of voters are evangelicals, well, that speaks volumes about supposed frontrunner Mitt Romney, who just can't seem to feel the love from parts of the GOP.

Three primary electoral tests for Republicans so far, three different winners. This nomination is up for grabs.


If a Newt Gingrich of unparalleled personal baggage in this race can win a Republican primary in a South Carolina where such a large percentage of voters are evangelicals, well, that speaks volumes about supposed frontrunner Mitt Romney, who just can't seem to feel the love from parts of the GOP.


Gingrich won by a dozen percentage points Saturday, in the same week that one of his ex-wives did an interview on network TV in which she claimed he had asked for an "open marriage" so that he could continue to carry on an affair with another woman, now his wife. Yet despite having a huge financial advantage as well, Romney just couldn't get the job done.


Something about Romney doesn't seem to connect with many Republican voters. Whether it's his Mormonism or his palpable discomfort speaking before crowds - with questions about his wealth and how he acquired it, with his initial hesitation over releasing his income tax returns, etc. - his instincts seem to repeatedly betray him.


Gingrich, on the other hand, is a pit bull who - in South Carolina, at least - snatched victory from what seemed at one time almost certain defeat. He did that in part by taking the oldest trick in the book - blaming the media, playing the martyr - and turning it to his advantage. Of course it wasn't the media that forced the Gingrich of sudden epiphany over the sanctity of marriage to wed three times after proving himself a not-so-faithful husband. It wasn't the media that compelled Gingrich to have an extramarital affair at the same time he was leading the charge for impeachment against then-President Bill Clinton for having an extramarital affair, with the chutzpah to then say the following: "There is no administration in American history with less moral authority than the Clinton, Gore administration." It wasn't the media but the House that Gingrich led as speaker that brought him up on ethics charges.


Gingrich is in many ways a skilled politician, a convincing debater, an unpredictable thinker, a sometimes gifted strategist (until he overplays his hand). He is also a hypocrite's hypocrite, with Romney's description of him this week as "highly erratic" pretty much on the mark, historically speaking. It will be interesting to see if that is as fine with Florida Republicans as it was with the South Carolina variety. This campaign is still young, but the winner in the Sunshine State will have no small amount of momentum.


If nothing else, it makes for fine theater, and perhaps no small amount of joy in an Obama White House that can sit back and watch Republicans do their dirty work for them.


Journal Star of Peoria, Ill.