White House photo by Pete Souza
Newt Gingrich is the current holder of the Republican crown. Saturday night, NBC projected Gingrich as the winner in the South Carolina Republican primary over his closet rival, Mitt Romney.
With 70% of the votes counted, Gingrich was winning by a 41% to 27% margin over Romney, much larger than advance polls has predicted.
The race for an opponent to run against incumbent President Barack Obama is down to two candidates, a former House Speaker, and a former Governor.
Romney, a wealthy Mormon (as we will see when he releases his IRS return), was second in South Carolina, a state with a Mormon population of less than one percent (.08%), while Gingrich, a former Southern Baptist now a Catholic, won the primary in a predominantly conservative Protestant state.
The early South Carolina primary was pivotal for Gingrich and a major setback for Romney. After losing in Iowa and New Hampshire, Gingrich appeared on his way out of politics. He was a distant second in polls the week before the South Carolina voting. Republican big money was lining up behind Romney.
Money dried up for Gingrich. It certainly did not help that he is a candidate who carries some of the heaviest political baggage this country has seen in these quadrennial shifts in American political power, three wives, admitted infidelities, two divorces, and an ethics charge that led to disciplinary action during his time as House speaker.
Gingrich was not giving up. He turned for help from one of the richest men in America, Sheldon Adelson, a billionaire casino owner and Mr. Gingrich's longtime friend and patron. The two men share a politically conservative ideology and a deep loyalty to Israel.
Adelson ignored other big money Republicans who begged him to stay out of the South Carolina race. They wanted the momentum to shift immediately to Romney. In response, according to a New York Times report, two weeks before Saturday's South Carolina primary, a $5 million check from Mr. Adelson arrived at the offices of Winning Our Future (WOF), a "super PAC" that supports Mr. Gingrich.
By Monday morning, January 9, WOF "had reserved more than $3.4 million in advertising time in South Carolina, a huge sum in a state where the airwaves come cheap." The money was used "to air portions of a movie critical of Mr. Romney's time at Bain Capital, the private equity firm he helped found."
This last minute injection, the Times points out,
"...underscores how the 2010 landmark Supreme Court ruling on campaign finance has made it possible for a wealthy individual to influence an election. Mr. Adelson's contribution to the super PAC is 1,000 times the $5,000 he could legally give directly to Mr. Gingrich's campaign this year."
The Times interviewed several sources "with knowledge of Mr. Adelson's decision to donate to Winning Our Future." They said the support of WOF comes from a two-decade friendship linking Gingrich to Adelson in a bond of a shared advocacy on behalf of Israel.
The friendship of the two men dates back to the mid-1990s, when Gingrich was in the House of Representatives. Adelson's staff knew they would find a kindred spirit in Gingrich, who was known to have a personal animosity against labor unions.
Mr. Adelson was building his newest resort casino, the Venetian, and became embroiled in a battle with a local culinary union trying to organize his employees. The conflict soured further when Adelson helped finance a campaign in Nevada to pass legislation curtailing the ability of labor unions to automatically deduct money from members to finance political activities.
Gingrich helped Adelson's team develop an anti-union pitch in support of the Nevada legislation. Gingrich supported the legislation and was honored with a Nevada fund raiser. Gingrich and Adelson became fortuitous pals out of this initial anti-union campaign.