Iowa ‘Split Decision’ Ominous Sign For Romney As Gingrich Gains Ground

With the South Carolina primary just two days away, Mitt Romney woke up to some troubling news. The Iowa Republican Party seemed poised to revisit his Jan. 3 victory in the caucuses.

As our colleagues at The Two-Way note, the Des Moines Register is reporting that party officials will announce that a final count of the votes actually puts Rick Santorum ahead by 34 votes. Because some of results from eight precincts are missing, the Iowa GOP is expected to declare the outcome “a split decision.”

The announcement may do little to help the fortunes of Santorum, who never seemed to capitalize on his strong Iowa showing and is now battling for third or fourth place in South Carolina.

But it could have big implications for Romney. The Iowa ‘tie’ does nothing to burnish the mantle of inevitability that Romney was counting on heading into this weekend’s vote. It also means that the media won’t be able to declare him a rarity among GOP candidates: a front-runner who swept the first three nominating contests. (At least not without adding a big asterisk.) And that won’t help his quest to wrap up the GOP nomination as quickly as possible.

Thursday morning, Romney also had to contend with new polls like this one from Politico that suggest Newt Gingrich is gaining ground on him in South Carolina. While Romney still leads Gingrich, 37 to 30 percent, Politico says Gingrich “has momentum.” As James Hohmann reports:

“When voters are asked to volunteer the name of the candidate they plan to vote for without being prompted by a list of names to choose from, Romney’s lead over Gingrich slips to 31 percent to 29 percent. Among those who say they will ‘definitely’ support their candidate of choice, the two are essentially tied, with Romney at 23 percent and Gingrich at 22 percent.”

Of course, Gingrich could face some bad news of his own. ABC News was reportedly set to air an interview with his second wife, Marianne Gingrich, on Nightline Thursday night. While ABC has not released details of the interview, an ABC spokesman told the AP that the network planned to release excerpts during the day Thursday, ahead of the evening’s GOP debate.

In something of a pre-buttal, the Gingrich campaign released a statement from Gingrich’s two daughters from his first marriage, suggesting that Marianne may have “differing memories of events.” Whatever the second Mrs. Gingrich says, it’s unlikely to boost her ex-husband’s fortunes in conservative South Carolina this weekend.

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