There are commentators claiming tonight that the race for the Republican nomination is over. Nonsense. This is like saying the first team to score a touchdown in Sunday's Super Bowl is the winner. This is the hopeful plea from some establishment Republicans who are eager to call victory and have the referee stop the fight before the opponent bloodies their man. The race is just starting. And it is a delegate race (which is why Ron Paul will stay in the race, in my view) in which all primaries and caucuses in February and March are proportional delegate contests, meaning that delegates can be split among the front-runners.
Gingrich declared tonight that he will "contest every place [state]" and vowed to stay in the race until the August national convention in Tampa, FL. One bright spot for the former Speaker of the House: Gingrich led self-described "very conservative" voters by 43-29 percent. This suggests that in the reddest of the red states, Gingrich stands an excellent chance of winning by sizable margins, and thereby demonstrating the substantial ideological differences between the moderate and conservative wings of the Republican Party.
Establishment Republicans and Romney supporters will be prematurely calling the race over. There are several reasons for this.
First, the 14-point victory is barely half of Romney's advantage in some polls barely two weeks ago, which had the Massachusetts governor with a 24-26 point lead.
Second, just consider for a moment what Gingrich had to endure during those last two weeks: the Newtron bomb of the Marianne Gingrich "open marriage" allegation just 12 days ago.
Objectively, these facts indicate that Gingrich showed resiliency, survived a tough issue that would have destroyed other candidates, and made a competitive showing in a state where mid-January polls indicated a landslide for Romney.
Conversely, Romney got the respectable, decisive victory he needed to quiet the naysayers who were whispering off the record (as NBC's Andrea Mitchell reported the evening of the South Carolina primary) that establishment leaders were ready to reconvene the "smoke filled room" to select a replacement for Romney if he failed to win Florida.
The race is far from over. And far from being destructive, the prolonged primary season will keep voters intrigued and the pressing issues of the day in the news cycle. The Republican Party and its ultimate ticket may end up benefitting from a competitive, if not thrilling, primary race.
Eric Dixon is a New York election lawyer who has worked for Republican presidential and gubernatorial candidates during his 17-year legal career.