But Karl Rove, the former chief political strategist for President George W. Bush, told Fox News that South Carolina was "a vote to go on" and keep the race competitive rather than a "confirmation" of Gingrich as the nominee. "We're at the beginning of the contest," Rove said.
The next test will be the Florida primary January 31, and it promises to be another ferocious battle. Despite his South Carolina win, Gingrich is by no means assured of an easy time in Florida or anywhere else. Romney still has the only national organization and the biggest war chest in the race, and will remain a formidable opponent if not the acknowledged front-runner any more.
Another problem for Gingrich is that he will be everyone's target. Romney strategists say they will go after him immediately in a number of ways. such as underscoring that Gingrich was reprimanded as House speaker for ethics violations. The Romney forces will also hammer him for taking payments from the controversial mortgage giant Freddie Mac. The Democrats and the news media also will examine Gingrich's past with a fine-tooth comb.
Gingrich's vulnerabilities remain serious. His confidence can come across as arrogance and condescension; his behavior as a congressional leader has been branded erratic by Santorum and others who have served with him, and he has alienated many people that he worked with, according to Democratic and Republican strategists. Democratic leaders say Gingrich would be relatively easy to characterize as a polarizing, shoot-from-the-hip zealot whose temperament is too volatile for him to serve as commander in chief.
But in South Carolina, Gingrich wasn't appealing so much to GOP voters' minds as their emotions, especially their passionate desire for a straight-talking leader who will espouse conservative principles in an aggressive way. He comes across as a warrior, and that's what many Republicans have been looking for.
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