After Newt Gingrich won the South Carolina Primary tonight, the race for the Republican nomination has been blown wide open with three different winners coming in the first three contests. Despite a fourth place finish, Congressman Ron Paul of Texas still has reason to fight on in the GOP nomination process throughout the spring. As the former doctor has pointed out, many Republican candidates have been the "flavor of the month" by rising dramatically in the polls only to plummet to the bottom of the pack a few weeks later. In his speech tonight, Paul touted his campaign's steady growth since the beginning of the campaign, a trend line that can be easily seen on the front page of Real Clear Politics.
Paul has arguably been the second most successful candidate thus far, bested only by Mitt Romney. Romney has one win and two second place finishes under his belt, followed by Ron Paul with a second, third, and fourth place finish. Santorum has one win with a fourth place in New Hampshire and third place finish in South Carolina. Gingrich surged in recent days to upset Romney's lead in South Carolina, but finished out of the top three in both Iowa and New Hampshire. Out of the four remaining candidates, only Paul and Romney have avoided the roller coaster cycle that ousted Bachmann, Cain, and Perry in recent weeks.
Paul also has the ability to wage a nation-wide campaign due to the large donations to his campaign via the internet and his national organization. He pointed out in the debate this past week to highlight the popularity of his foreign policy among the military that he received more money from active duty military servicemen and women than all other GOP candidates combined. The Air Force veteran also will be the only challenger to Mitt Romney in the Virginia Primary due to failures by the Gingrich and Santorum campaigns to file all of the necessary paperwork by the deadline. Paul and Romney will both be on the ballot in all 50 states, giving them the upper hand in the now four-man race.
Were the conservative vote to consolidate behind Paul, a far more conservative candidate than Romney, he would likely defeat the Massachusetts governor. Romney has had difficulty garnering more than 25 percent of the vote in conservative states like Iowa and South Carolina, giving Paul a large advantage throughout the South over Romney. Even in strongholds like New Hampshire that tend to vote for more moderate candidates, Paul came in second place and could have possibly defeated him if other conservatives like Gingrich and Santorum had not split the conservative vote.
According to exit polls in South Carolina, the two most important issues to voters were the economy at 61 percent and debt reduction at 23 percent. With a 20 year plus Congressional career behind him, Paul has been focused on reigning in the Federal Reserve that has created various financial bubbles including the housing bubble that began the recession in 2008. As Speaker Gingrich claimed in his victory speech tonight, Congressman Paul has been focused on creating a sound monetary policy, reigning in the Federal Reserve, and balancing the budget in order to pay off the debt for over two decades. Paul also has the most drastic debt reduction plan of the four candidates by calling for a $1 trillion cut in expenses in the first year of the new Presidency. If candidates truly want to fix the economy, create an environment where businesses can create millions of jobs, pay off the debt, and reduce taxes, no other candidate can hold a candle to Ron Paul.
Political pundits have also claimed for the past few months that Paul would compete well in the Iowa Caucus due to its smaller voter turnout but would fail to gain much support in the primaries. While Paul does have an advantage in caucuses due to his incredibly enthusiastic and involved supporters, he has outperformed all expectation in the two primaries thus far. Any analyst that claimed that Paul could not be competitive in a state wide competition has been proven wrong by the people of New Hampshire and South Carolina. With Florida coming next followed by a number of caucus states, Paul will have the upper hand in securing voter turnout in the smaller contests but will remain competitive in state wide contests to come.
Finally comes the all important question of electability. In a recent poll conducted by Public Policy Polling, both Paul and Romney were beaten by President Obama by only 5 points with a margin of error of 3.7 points, making Paul and Romney essentially in a dead heat with the President. Santorum trailed the President by 8 points and Gingrich trailed by 7 points. Gingrich also polled as the most unfavorable of all of the GOP candidates. As many Republicans care most about unseating the President, Romney and Paul are at the top of the pack on the electability issue.
While the media cannot wait to claim that the race is now a two-man fight between Romney and Gingrich, the fight for the GOP nomination is far from decided. Only 3 states have voted thus far and three different winners have been chosen. Moving forward, candidates with large fundraising ability and organization like Romney and Paul will have a clear upper hand. If Paul can outlast Gingrich and Santorum, he could see many conservatives who want to restore the economy, pay off the debt, and have a consistent candidate on the issues swing his way against Romney and propel him toward becoming the Republican nomination.