Wow! What a ride!
Jon's gone. Newt's ex says he likes to party.
Mexican Mitt knows how to avoid the taxman.Perry pulls out. And the Rick who hates the thingsRicky Martin does says he has never sat on a couchwith a woman other than his wife.
Who knew South Carolina could squeeze this muchout of a Republican campaign?
It's like a reality show.
And that was all before the debate.
Meanwhile, the news that really matters to Latinos(don't worry, we'll get back to the juicy stuff ina bit) hovered, understandably in that blaze oftabloid headlines, off the radar:
Mexican Mitt Romney could lose.
Yep. In a matter of days, and just days after mostofthe media was talking about his seeminglyunstoppable romp across the primary map, the guywho could possibly be our first Latino presidentsaw his 20-point lead over Newt Gingrich fizzlelike a cheap velita in a rainstorm.
As they headed into the final debate before SouthCarolina voters headed to the ballot boxes forSaturday's primary, Romney dropped into a virtualtie with Gingrich.
What did it? Well, in the maelstrom of steamyrevelations, allegations and departures floggingcampaign news this week, it's hard to tell.
Ever since the New Hampshire primary, Romney hasbeen taking a beating over his money, and how hegot it. A blistering documentary style ad accusedhim for profiting heftily from layoffs while hepresided over Bain Capital. Then he got lambastedfor saying the $374,327.62 he hauled in inspeaker's fees last year was "not very much."
Then, his critics piled on when he said hepaid only about a 15-percent tax rate, lower thanmost middle-class families making $50,000-a-year.
And then, he got smacked around forrefusing to release his tax returns so folks couldsee what he makes, and from where. He even gotbooed for it by audience members at the debate.
But it's likely his sudden statistical tie withGingrich, barely 1.5 points apart in some polls,wasn't just Romney sinking. Two of the "not-Romney" candidates, Jon Huntsman and Rick Perrydropped out. And Gingrich fired up his rocket-thrusters in the Palmetto State. He and the SuperPAC backing him pounded on the Bain thing. He laidinto Romney's record every chance he got.
But a funny thing happened on the campaign trail.
No, not his ex-wife saying Gingrich wanted an"open marriage" while he was cheating on her withhis current wife. That scandalous allegationexploded Thursday. He called it "false" at thedebate.
And not the funny revelation from Rick Santorumthat the only woman he's ever shared acouch withwas his wife. It was an obvious dig at Gingrich,and got a laugh. But it also served as fodder fora flurry of jokes about Santorum standingawkwardly in the presence of seated women, or himsitting on the floor rather than risking a risquésharing of a sofa.
No, the funny thing that happened was how thecandidates ramped up the harsh immigration tonethat's been making party officials nervous, evenas they tried to appease potential Latino voters.
And Gingrich, the only candidate left who isn'ttaking a "kick all the illegal immigrants out"position, joined them.
Gingrich praised South Carolina's immigrationcrackdown law that lets cops stop and questionanyone who looks like an illegal immigrant tothem, then launched a Spanish-language ad inFlorida calling Romney "anti-immigrant." Thursdaynight, Gingrich, the only Republican candidateknown to be learning Spanish, said he supports an"English-only" law.
Romney, for his part, keeps reminding everyonethat he's the son of a Mexican (his dad was bornthere), and last week launched his own Spanish-language ad calling the United States "the land ofopportunity." But the ad started airing the sameday he proudly accepted the endorsement he gotfrom Kris Kobach, the architect of the strictArizona and Alabama immigration laws. And heearned a spot on a moderately viral YouTube videothat got picked up by the Huffington Post when heapparently (it's not clear on the video) pulledhis hand out of a handshake with a self-describedDREAMER challenging him over his promise to vetothe education act that would grant citizenship tothe children of illegal immigrants for completingtwo years of college or military service.
With the anti-immigrant rhetoric raging,Republican Party officials have scrambled tolaunch a Hispanic outreach initiative. And partymembers and advocates are repeating the campaignmantra that immigration is not the top concern foranyone, not even Latinos.
"The economy and jobs is the number one issue,"Jennifer Korn, executive director of the HispanicLeadership Network and former head of George W.Bush's reelection campaign, said. "I think themajority of people will be voting with theirpocketbook because they want to see this end."
They're right. In a recent Pew Hispanic Centersurvey, immigration came in sixth. But it's apretty tight cluster of priorities, with jobs andeducation at the top with 50 and 49 percentrespectively. But a full third, 33 percent, putimmigration first. That's a pretty big group torisk alienating.
And the way immigration and jobs seems to beconnected for Republican voters, and thecandidates, is scary.
It came up again in Thursday night's debate, inthe form of a question from an audience member whosaid: "Hi. I would like to ask, on the issue ofamnesty of the illegal aliens, would you, howwould you secure that the American citizens wouldget, keep the jobs in line first for them?"
The question sparked a lengthy discussion wherethe candidates dove into a quien es mas machostruggle over who would be tougher and who wouldbe weakest on illegal immigration. Romney, RonPaul and Rick Santorum all banged loudly on their"no path to residency or citizenship" drums again.Santorum stepped it up a notch and banged on bothRomney and Gingrich for being too soft on illegalimmigration. Gingrich took the Dairy Queen "semi-soft" line, boot "bad" illegal immigrants likegang members, but offer "grandmothers andgrandfathers" a shot at residency.
Problem is, the tough guy immigration stand is atiger's tail for the candidates. That snarlingbeast may haul them up in South Carolina, but itis just as likely to maul them with Hispanics inthe rest of the country.
If Romney does lose South Carolina, it won't behis first loss in the nomination race. It turnsout Mitt reallylost Iowa ... maybe. That was theother big revelation (well, for Santorum)announcement of the week. The latest count putsSantorum ahead by 34 votes. But ballots from eightprecincts went missing. So we'll never reallyknow.