Digested: South Dakota Republican Primary/All Change

Confusingly, it’s all change over the pond after a week that’s been turbulent even by American political standards.

Within the space of a few days, Mitt Romney went from being confidently ahead of the pack, optimistically looking forward having secured two states-worth of delegates, to being stripped of one of those victories then getting decisively hammered into second in South Dakota by a resurgent Newt Gingrich.

On Thursday, a recount of the votes cast during the Iowa Caucus found that Rick Santorum had actually won 34 more than Mitt Romney, who’d apparently scraped to victory by just eight votes on the night. Substantially, this doesn’t make much difference to the Romney camp – second place simply means Romney gets 12 delegates from Iowa, rather than 13. Symbolically, the effects are profound, especially in the light of events in South Dakota.

The Gingrich campaign has looked dead in the water more than once since he announced his candidacy in May last year, and up until now his performance has been disappointing. Suffice to say, winning with 40% of the vote in South Dakota has been a massive turnaround for the former Leader of the House. Having staked much of his campaign money on rousing support in Dakota, Gingrich tapped into Southern conservative resentment of what they say as liberal dominance in politics and the media with impressive results.

Whereas other states like New Hampshire allocate delegates proportionally, in South Dakota whoever comes first gets all the state’s delegates – the upshot of this being that Gingrich has been sprung from nowhere to overall first place.

Before we get overexcited, though, Romney still has by far the biggest campaign fund of all the Republican candidates, and it remains to be seen whether Gingrich can sustain that lead in the more liberal states yet to come. On the other hand, Gingrich could now become the viable Anything But Romney candidate conservative Republicans are crying out for and ride to victory on a wave of right-wing discontent with Obama – Rick Perry finally dropping out after a lacklustre performance from the start, then throwing his support behind Gingrich, could bolster this effect.

Florida, coming up on the 31st, could be decisive – with 50 delegates up for grabs, it’s one of the most important states to win if a candidate wants a comfortable ride to the Presidential nomination.