As the 2012 Republican presidential contest unfolds, Romney’s position as the front-runner has been called into question following Newt Gingrich’s win in the South Carolina primary on Saturday.
Until now, pundits have all but crowned Romney the front-runner after he placed second in the Iowa caucuses and won the New Hampshire primary. According to a Gallup poll released earlier this month, six in ten likely voters believe Romney will be the Republican nominee.
Professor at the Harvard Kennedy School Matthew A. Baum said he believes that despite Romney’s perceived status as the likely nominee, conservatives are searching for a candidate that presents a challenge.
“I think the conservative and traditional-values wing of the Republican party has been very dissatisfied with Romney,” Baum said. “There’s been a desire to find an alternative to Romney, and Gingrich has fired up the base very effectively.”
With Gingrich gaining traction in the polls, Romney’s campaign has suffered a blow.
Elaine C. Kamarck, lecturer at the Kennedy School and former advisor to Al Gore ’69, said she was not surprised that Gingrich won the South Carolina primary.
“South Carolina was always going to be a good state for him and he knew it,” Kamarck said. “He won because he had really strong support among evangelicals. That was one state where Romney’s Mormonism might really matter.”
According to Kamarck, Gingrich’s win indicates that there are “severe doubts about Romney’s conservative credentials” among Republicans.
“Everything that has been said about Romney earlier this year has played out—that is, that he’s going to have a hard time rallying the conservative base,” she said.
Baum noted that despite Gingrich’s win in South Carolina, Romney will likely fare well in future state contests.
“We are told that Romney has a much better ground-game across the country and has staff in most of the major primary states,” Baum said. “Gingrich is much less situated right now to run a state-by-state-by-state campaign.”
Although the Republican nomination race has become increasingly tense in recent weeks, Kevin R. Palmer ’12 said he believes the damage will not prevent Romney from winning in November’s general election.
“I think it will be to the benefit of the party,” Palmer said. “The prolonged battle between [Barack] Obama and [Hillary] Clinton made Obama a better candidate in November 2008. Hopefully the remaining four candidates can stay focused on the issues.”
Aditi Ghai ’14, who is supporting Romney and has conducted fieldwork for his campaign in New Hampshire, said that she has noticed that students on campus are paying attention to the Republican race.
Ghai said that most students have not been involved in campaigning, but she believes that will change in the general election.
“I think this race is kind of a big deal,” Ghai said.
—Staff writer Jose A. DelReal can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.