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Alex Spillius: Romney's still afloat, and that could be enough

A Washington political consultant asked over coffee the other day why the British and other foreign media paid so much attention to American elections.

Apart from being the world's superpower and our cousinly relations, I explained, they are just more entertaining than our own. The point was proved yesterday when, in just one day, the Republican primary packed more drama and twists and turns than most entire campaigns in Britain or Europe.

There was a withdrawal, a recount, the revelations of an embittered former spouse and a late surge in the polls that could change what was regarded as a foregone conclusion in Saturday's South Carolina primary. For US political junkies, there was a danger of overdose.

It was like a horse race where the lead keeps changing and it is hard to tell who is in front. Rick Perry, the Governor of Texas, pulled off the course -- that much was clear -- and his decision to endorse Newt Gingrich simultaneously was an undoubted boost for the former House Speaker. But Mr Gingrich was immediately impeded by a prime-time interview by his second wife Marianne, who claimed he had sought an open marriage after admitting to having an affair with his congressional aide, Callista -- now his third wife.

This was not good news for a candidate seeking to portray himself as the conservative alternative to Mitt Romney, the front-runner.

Mr Romney, meanwhile, continued his recent poor run. Party officials in Iowa, which held the first contest in the primary calendar on January 3, announced he had in fact lost by 34 votes to Rick Santorum, and not won by eight votes.

He was battered further by stories about his wealth, with ABC News revealing that he and his former company Bain had parked millions off-shore in the Cayman Islands. The Romney campaign argued that it wasn't a tax dodge, but, whatever the rights and wrongs, it added to the impression of Mr Romney as a money-laden 'one percenter'.

Mr Santorum ended the day hoping that the good news from Iowa, coupled with the former Mrs Gingrich's revelations, could steer him into a second-placed finish tomorrow night.

Given yesterday's commotion, predictions are perhaps foolhardy. A poor showing by Mr Romney in a debate being held last night could prove very costly. But most polls show that he will probably still win South Carolina to follow his comfortable victory in New Hampshire.

Even if he doesn't, he remains a forbidding favourite, with the money, campaign infrastructure and support within the party establishment to last the distance of a primary schedule that has only just begun.

A majority of Republicans think he has the best chance of beating Barack Obama, and that fact alone is likely to see him through. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent