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CHICAGO (CBS) — Voters in South Carolina shook up the race for the Republican presidential nomination over the weekend, handing Newt Gingrich an upset victory against and delivering a setback to heretofore frontrunner Mitt Romney.
Gingrich won among an electorate composed largely of socially conservative born-again Christians, even though he has been married three times and has admitted to infidelity, and was hit with a claim by ex-wife Marianne Gingrich that he had asked her to begin an open marriage.
But political analyst Stephen Caliendo says Gingrich’s victory was more about disappointment with Romney than any other factor.
“There’s increasing concern that (Romney is ) out of touch, that he is not connecting with voters, and I don’t think that’s going to get any easier for him this week,” Caliendo said.
So could Gingrich defeat President Barack Obama in the general election? Caliendo says it’s too early to tell.
“I think anybody can beat anybody in a presidential election, honestly, especially with the economy doing so bad, so I don’t think he has a chance right now if you look at the Quinnipiac polls – the head-to-heads still show President Obama beating any of the Republican challengers,” he said. “But remember, it’s not too late to draft somebody new. That can always happen as well, so, we have a long time until November.”
Meanwhile, Romney has finally agreed to release a year’s worth of tax returns, after steadfastly refusing to do so. Caliendo says Romney is likely worried that by not releasing his returns, he was sending a signal that he was paying less of a percentage of his income in taxes than a middle-class taxpayer, given that most of his income comes from investments.
“He’s only going to release one year, though, I think, and then projections for 2011, so I don’t know if this issue is going to go away,” Caliendo said. “The Republicans may leave it alone, because it’s in their ideological makeup to say, ‘We’re not going to punish success,’ but I think that the Democrats are going to hold onto it for a little while.”
Meanwhile, it’s not unlikely that Rick Santorum will likely soon withdraw, Caliendo says.
“I think that he needed to have a better showing in South Carolina to indicate to some folks that he could do well so he could make more money, and it’s hard for him to raise money under these circumstances,” Caliendo said. “So I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s the next one to go, but I’m not going to predict when.”
Over the course of the Republican primary so far, candidates have made headlines for beating each other up. But Caliendo says this is unlikely to make a difference when the general election comes around.
“There are some attacks on one another, but again, I think that Republicans ought to feel comfortable with this because it’s going to make them better campaigners in the long run,” he said. “I think we have a short memory with respect to these things, and I think that it won’t take too long until everybody is turning their attention to the president.”