Gingrich’s defeat of Romney in South Carolina Saturday was absolutely dominating. Just a week ago, Romney had a solid lead over Gingrich in the polls. On Saturday night, he lost to Gingrich by 12 points — a huge and disastrous swing. Gingrich won 44 of South Carolina’s 46 counties.
How did it happen? For one thing, all the talk about Romney having a hugely superior ground organization turned out not to be true. “They did not do the retail politics that a Santorum and a Gingrich have done over time,” said Kevin Thomas, chairman of the Fairfield County Republican Party. (Thomas was neutral in the race.) “I think Newt’s people, they had more on-the-ground staff, and they worked.” There were a lot of them, too; after Gingrich’s strong showing in the debates, said Susan Meyers, Gingrich’s media coordinator for the Southeast, “We have so many volunteers, our phones are melting right now.”
Gingrich’s campaign was also faster and more nimble than the Romney battleship. “There is a very strong contrast between the two campaign organizations,” said Gingrich adviser (and former George W. Bush administration official) Kevin Kellems. “In military terms, it’s speed versus mass. Newt Gingrich’s operation, and Newt Gingrich as a man, has a great deal of speed — intellectual speed, decisiveness. The Romney campaign is much more about money and size, having hired half of Washington D.C. And sometimes, speed beats mass.”
It certainly did this time. In the next few days, there will be plenty of analysis attributing Gingrich’s victory to other factors: his commanding performances in debate, his next-door advantage in South Carolina, and Romney’s now-traditional difficulties in the state. But after all the talk of ground game and debate war, there’s a simpler reason Gingrich won: On the stump, in town hall after town hall, across South Carolina, Gingrich has been a markedly better campaigner than Romney.