Ultimately, this race will turn into a bloodbath. With two national debates wedged into less than two weeks of campaigning, the slightest phrase could change public sentiment. And the candidates altogether have purchased close to $8 million in advertising in this very short window. That means that South Carolina will be overwhelmed with messages -- both good and bad.
It really all boils down to this: If Mitt Romney can make himself less cold, less plastic, more human, less wealthy, more caring and more genuine, he can win South Carolina and the rest of the Southern states. If not, he will face some degree of a real threat in South Carolina. And, of greater importance, he will have a hard time getting Republicans in critical swing states such as Florida, North Carolina and Virginia motivated to turn out at the numbers he needs to defeat President Obama, should Romney become the nominee.
Not that Gingrich is warm and fuzzy. In fact, surveys show that Santorum and Perry both score higher on the "likeability" scale. But at this point, that really does not matter. The presidential nomination usually goes to the individual who wants it the most. Gingrich is now acting and spending like he really wants the job. But Romney has been doing the same for four years. The real question is whether a guy who got his act together in the 11th hour can defeat a man who has been ready for years. The answer will come in a real, live big primary ... South Carolina.