Yesterday I took a trip to South Carolina to try and help Newt Gingrich over the hump. I knew that state was going to be key. South Carolina had picked every Republican nominee since Ronald Reagan. We knew momentum had been building for Newt and a win in SC would really pump him up to the next level.
I was shadowing Newt's South Eastern Chairwoman (Maria Zack). She informed me that that when she first started working on the Newt Campaign "South East" meant everywhere not Iowa and New Hampshire. She said "We had 8 people on the team. Now we have over 70 and it grows every day". The momentum is really moving in the right direction. Maria was quite an interesting person in that she had been working with Newt for decades and had a ton of good background stories. She knew him as just a regular person. And that's how she spoke about him. She said one of the difference between him and other candidates was how hard he worked (She said he was personally putting out signs at 4:30 AM on election day)
When the day started there was real trepidation. There were monsoon type rains going on throughout the day in areas where Newt was expected to win and it was mostly clear where Romney was expected to do well. As the day rolled along though, we kept getting calls that despite the rain people were waiting in the rain, in lines to vote for Newt. The military vote (A huge population in SC) was coming out strong for Newt as well. Sort of a shock to me was how low Ron Paul polled. With his claims of close military ties I expected he might fair better then he did with that population but I learned that the campaigns polling was showing it was just the opposite. The huge active duty and retired military population did not like Ron Paul at all.
At 7 PM sharp we were getting exit polls that said it was already over and Newt was going to win hands down. WOW!! No one was expecting that! The news shot through the building like a lightening bolt. It was HUGE! The place erupted! People were shouting and cheering. Reporters from all over the nation and world were running all over the place asking questions of anyone and everyone they could grab ahold of. The crowd waiting to see the Newt victory speech were electrified and jacked up. Cheers of "USA! USA! USA!" were mixed in with chants of "Niki who?, Nikki who?, Nikki who?" For SC governor Nikki Haley who had come out for Romney and had been campaigning for him across the state.
As the numbers rolled in a double digit victory blew everyone away and sent everyone to another level of excitement. They were singing the "Pump up" music songs, Waving signs, lifting little children into the air to see Newt as he came in and was shaking hands. National and local dignitaries were all over the place.
Rick Santorum had a funny mix in the crowd. While his concession speech was being played the crowd chanted "Drop out now! Drop out now!" but I did not get the sense it was because they disliked Rick. More it was they saw the need to consolidate the conservative vote to elect a conservative in the primary. Sure enough when Newt spoke of his fellow competitors in the primary (He had kind words for all) The chants of "V.P., V.P., V.P." were quite strong when Newt spoke of Rick.
Newt just smiled.