Gingrich, Buoyed By S.C. Win, Turns To Florida

The Florida primary on Jan. 31 is the next nominating contest in the GOP presidential campaign. On Saturday, Newt Gingrich won the South Carolina primary. On Sunday, he was saying it's now a two-man race between Mitt Romney and himself.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And now, let's bring in NPR's Cokie Roberts, as we do most Mondays. Cokie, good morning.

COKIE ROBERTS, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: Well, yesterday, Newt Gingrich was all over the airwaves saying this is now a two-man race, Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney - no Rick Santorum in there, as far as he's concerned, or Ron Paul, for that matter.

ROBERTS: Well, that is basically the case in terms of who is really at the top of this race. But look, the Republican establishment, such as it is, Republican officeholders and former officeholders are likely to weigh in against Newt Gingrich. Many have already, and they are very worried about his prospects of being elected. And the Republican electorate, though, continues to be unhappy about Mitt Romney.

So that means that Rick Santorum is convinced that folks will eventually come to him as the only alternative, though we're beginning to see Republican editorial writers fantasizing about another candidate getting in at this very late date. Mitch Daniels, the governor of Indiana, will give the reply to the president's State of the Union Tuesday night. People are talking about him, but I think that's very unlikely.

It's much more likely to be a long process, state by state. And Florida, as you just heard, is big because it's winner-take-all in the delegates, and it's big in the general election. But this could be a delegate-by-delegate process. Ron Paul is hoping to pick up some and have some clout in the - at the convention. And right now, it's Newt Gingrich who has the most delegates.

INSKEEP: Well, let's recall that Newt Gingrich who was high in the polls back in December. Mitt Romney's superPAC and his campaign ran a lot of negative ads, which brought him down very quickly. Gingrich then, of course, attacked Romney, brought down Romney somewhat, but Romney still has lots of money. Why would it not work again for Romney to pull Gingrich back to earth?

ROBERTS: And it might. That might be exactly what happens, but he no longer seems to be the inevitable candidate, the frontrunner. And Gingrich has found his voice, and his voice is that of the aggrieved voter who doesn't like Wall Street, doesn't like the media, doesn't like the government from Washington.

He's essentially channeling Ronald Reagan, but less sunny, and much more analytical. But he's also hoping that Reagan is the example of the only divorced president who didn't seem to worry religious voters. Gingrich is hoping that works for him, as well.

And the South Carolina exit polls seem to support him. We'll see how this plays out. I mean, his attack on the media worked very well for him in South Carolina, but Democrats are just salivating at running against Newt Gingrich with all of his baggage. But they should take a look at how they salivated against - running against Ronald Reagan, too, and maybe be careful what they wish for.

INSKEEP: Well, Obama's campaign had hoped to follow Reagan's pattern of a first-term president who had a tough economy, but then the economy improved just in time and he sailed away with the election. Is there any sign that Obama could be following that pattern?

ROBERTS: Well, he could be, absolutely, and he's trying to do that by appealing to the little guy, the middle-class voters, which he's likely to do again in the State of the Union. But, you know, Republicans are not buying anything he's saying these days. John Boehner, the speaker said that it would be, quote, "pathetic" if he offers the same old ideas, which Boehner says have made the economy worse.

And the president does seem to be playing to his own base in several decisions lately, of not doing the Keystone Pipeline, refusing to give religious institutions exemptions on contraception coverage under health care. So, you know, he's also playing to the people who can elect him.

INSKEEP: One member of Congress who will be there for the State of the Union, but not much longer in Congress, is Gabrielle Giffords, who said over the weekend she's stepping down.

ROBERTS: Well, of course it's been such a hard road for her, and apparently, she discovered when she went to the year anniversary of the shooting in Arizona how difficult it was for her to do a public event. So a special election will be held in Arizona to fill her seat, and she says that she has to concentrate on her recovery.

INSKEEP: Cokie, thanks very much. That's NPR's Cokie Roberts, who joins us most Monday mornings.

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