NOWist Jimmy Williams is an msnbc Contributor and former Senate staffer
Mitt Romney has an image problem. What an irony. By all accounts, Romney is the handsomest man in the campaign world. He's been running for either the U.S. Senate or POTUS for nearly 30 years. His family is picture perfect. His wife, also by all accounts, happens to be one of the nicest people on the planet. His sons are all married, employed, and spitting out Romney heirs right and right. He ran the Olympics successfully. Yet, Mitt Romney isn't going to win the South Carolina GOP primary today despite his "perfectness" (new word of the day). And the reason he can't win in South Carolina, the perennial predictor of all things GOP since the beginning of time? Because my home state folks think he's a fraud. Mitt Romney indeed has an image problem.
"Let's Go Bird Hunting"
The first thing you learn about bird hunting down in South Carolina is you gotta flush your prey out of the brush. When you scare those startled birds up into the air, you expose them and show them for their true colors. And then you fire away. Welcome to the primary process in South Carolina. Romney has been crisscrossing South Carolina like one of those doves and he's had a ground game there for months. Folks in the South are generally suspicious of outsiders aka "Carpetbaggers" and while we're gracious and polite, we don't take kindly to people coming onto our turf, saying one thing while their record shows something entirely different. On issues from healthcare to gay marriage to abortion, Romney has "evolved" from his years as a (his words) "progressive" GOP Massachusetts governor into a "true conservative" perennial candidate for POTUS. That just doesn't fly down in South Carolina, to continue my hunting metaphor. Bottom line: SC GOP voters think Romney is a fraud, that he's not conservative, and they don't trust him. Like I said, Mitt Romney has an image problem.
And yet South Carolina will today snatch the win today from Romney where he was polling well ahead of his closest frontrunners a week ago and hand it to perhaps the most flawed candidate in the field, Newt Gingrich. As I wrote here Thursday, Gingrich is a "sinner" who's repented. He's admitted his serial adultery, converted to Roman Catholicism, and turned his myriad weaknesses into strengths by confronting them directly and forcefully. Whether you're an evangelical or a moderate Christian in SC, we all believe in the redemption from sin. This theology is the basis for all things moral back home. Gingrich is the ultimate sinner yet he's been redeemed.
So what we know is Mitt Romney stands to lose today and Newt Gingrich is poised to win. What does this mean for Florida, the next primary state? The Sunshine state is an expensive place to run for statewide office, with four major media markets and a fickle and diverse group of voters. Republicans in the panhandle (where you still see Confederate flags) are very different than Republicans down in Miami. Romney still sits on a ton of money and his positions and likability will help him down there. The unmistakeable fact though is he's been wounded. He didn't win Iowa (which I predicted on NOW with Alex Wagner), he performed perfectly fine in New Hampshire where he owns a home, and he blew it in South Carolina. He's one of the birds that took a few pieces of lead in the air but can still fly. Nationally, his poll numbers are tanking and if he keeps on the trajectory he'll be in big trouble. Romney must do something to change it quickly or he's going to be like one of those "other" birds: the ones that end up on the ground badly wounded and in a hunting dog's mouth ready to be delivered to the hunter. Like I said, Mitt Romney has an image problem.