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Late Deciders Look to Have Taxed Romney

A few moments ago the networks declared Newt Gingrich the winner in South Carolina. A week ago, Romney looked to have the nomination sewn up. But even if the Gingrich surge doesn’t last — and I don’t believe it will — this will turn the GOP race into a long, bruising slog.

As it turns out, one bad week may have cost Mitt Romney an easy stroll to the nomination. Reportedly, the exit polls are showing that half of South Carolinians decided whom to support in the last days before today’s primary and half of them chose Newt Gingrich. That means two debates that were judged to be successes for Gingrich and the distracting issue of his tax returns might have transformed the primary from easy Romney win to a surprising Gingrich triumph.

Clearly, Romney’s reluctance to release his tax returns did more to damage him that the expensive ad campaign launched by Gingrich supporters that aimed at tarnishing the frontrunner’s business record.

Ironically, the decision by ABC to broadcast an interview with Gingrich’s second wife Marianne may have also turned the tide for the former speaker. Instead of her charges hurting him, the instinctive revulsion of conservatives at what they perceive as liberal media bias rallied them around Gingrich.

Whatever happens in the future, and Gingrich has many obstacles to overcome if he hopes to actually win the nomination, this is a big night for the former speaker.