What Romney learned from losing South Carolina

GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney celebrates during a primary election night rally in Tampa, Florida.

Story highlights

  • Bruce Haynes: Romney went into South Carolina expecting to coast
  • He says Romney's defeat there taught him valuable lessons
  • Haynes says Romney fought much more aggressively for Florida's votes
  • He says South Carolina voters sent Romney a message -- we want a fighter for our cause
My home state of South Carolina likes its politics with a twist, and this year she added a new one. South Carolina saved a presidential candidate by dealing him a humbling defeat.
South Carolina voters usually decide GOP nominating contests by knocking out the insurgent candidate. They did it again, but this time they wrapped the defeat in a one week time-release victory capsule.
Mitt Romney arrived in South Carolina feeling good. He tried to start the game in South Carolina at second base. He came to the Palmetto state with an uninspiring, message-less campaign largely focused on himself and his inevitability as the nominee. He thought he had two wins under his belt, the wind at his back and it was time to hit cruise control.
And then, after one of the wildest weeks in recent American political memory, South Carolina took Romney off cruise control and sent him on a Southern detour.
Bruce Haynes
Palmetto state voters were disappointed with Romney and their votes for Gingrich were as much questions for Mitt as they were support for Newt. "Where's the fight? Show us you care. Show us you are tough enough to take on Obama in November." "Don't just let it come to you, win it." And Romney gave them nothing.
Gingrich filled that void. He was feisty. He fought Juan Williams. He fought CNN's own John King. He would have fought a kid for his lunch money if he thought it would have made his point.
South Carolina voters were sending Mitt Romney a clear message -- we want a candidate with that kind of campaign. A fighter.
Mitt Romney got the message loud and clear. He came to Florida fighting and swinging. His ads were tougher, he treated the debates like a street fight. He sent surrogates to Gingrich events to contest his remarks. Mitt Romney fought for every inch of Florida, tactically, strategically, completely.
Floridians responded to Mitt Romney the same way South Carolinians responded to Newt Gingrich. And after the Romney romp in Florida, I think many South Carolina voters are tipping their caps and saying "Way to go Mitt. That's more like it."
South Carolina voters did Mitt Romney a great favor. They turned him into a presidential candidate. He won by losing.
Romney thanked a lot of folks in his victory speech, but he forgot one very important group of people in South Carolina. He owes them a great debt of gratitude.
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