A perfect storm may be heading former Gov. Mitt Romney's way, and it could seriously damage his chances in the South Carolina primary on Saturday.
One part of the storm is the possibility that former House Speaker Newt Gingrich will give another commanding performance in the debate scheduled in Charleston tonight. Gingrich did very well in the last debate earlier this week, which may have propelled his campaign back into contention in the Palmetto State. A CNN/ORC/Time poll released yesterday found Romney leading with 33 percent of likely voters; Gingrich had 23 percent; former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania had 19; Rep. Ron Paul of Texas 13, and Gov. Rick Perry of Texas 6 percent. This poll indicates that Romney's lead has dropped from 19 points two weeks ago to 10 points.
Another concern for Romney is the possibility that the apparent outcome of the Iowa caucuses January 3 will be reversed. Instead of Romney winning by eight votes, the Iowa Republican Party could declare former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania the victor because of a possible miscount in the small southeastern Iowa town of Moulton.
The Des Moines Register is reporting that the Iowa GOP will announce that Santorum now has a tiny lead but that the results from some precincts have been lost and those results could have made Romney the winner. The Register says the vote will be considered a tie by the state party because all the votes cannot be certified.
There is also the problem of his tax returns, which he has declined to release, and criticism of his stint running Bain Capital, a private equity form. And there are the doubts about Romney among evangelical Christians and other social conservatives who are troubled by his changed positions on abortion, gay rights and other issues.
Romney and Gingrich are escalating their attacks on each other. Romney says Gingrich has no record of creating jobs in the private sector, a distinction that Romney claims for himself. Former Rep. Susan Molinari, a New York Republican and Romney ally who served in Congress with Gingrich, says Gingrich practiced "leadership by chaos" which alienated voters, helped elect Democrats to Congress, and contributed to the re-election of Democratic President Bill Clinton in 1996.
Gingrich argues that Romney and his allies are "desperate" and will "do anything at any level" to win. Gingrich adds that Romney has a problem appealing to everyday voters. The former House speaker is criticizing Romney for refusing to release his tax records which are expected to show that Romney, a millionaire, pays a tax rate of about 15 percent. This would be a much lower rate than many middle-class Americans pay. Gingrich said he pays 31 percent of his income in taxes.