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Can Mitt Romney recover from his South Carolina 'disaster'?

Newt Gingrich defied conventional political wisdom in coming back to win solidly in South Carolina. Can he do the same in Florida, and what must Mitt Romney do to recover from Saturday's drubbing?

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Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, stands with his wife Ann as he speaks at his South Carolina primary election night reception in Columbia, S.C., Saturday night. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich won the Republican primary.

Charles Dharapak/AP

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Was Newt Gingrich’s very solid victory in South Carolina Saturday night a fluke – as the Republican establishment fervently hopes?

Or was it a clear sign that all bets are off in the GOP nomination race – a time when the mix of social, economic, and political forces in the United States have combined to create a new landscape for electoral politics?

Just three contests into the primary/caucus season, the question may be unanswerable, the kind of thing that keeps pundits and political scientists gainfully employed. But the results are stark.

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“South Carolina has proven to be a disaster for Mitt Romney,” write Larry Sabato and Kyle Kondik of the University of Virginia Center for Politics in their morning-after analysis.

“The size of his defeat by Newt Gingrich – a 12%+ landslide in a four-way race – is virtually a repudiation of his candidacy in a state that has prided itself on picking the eventual nominee for 32 years,” they write. “And we suspect Romney will have several more nights of heartburn, much like this one, as the nomination process unfolds.”

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