Florida Republican primary promises quite a contest

Mitt Romney campaigning at Ormond Beach, Florida Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Mitt Romney's campaign has holes in it, but can his opponents make the cracks join up?

In Florida the Republican race becomes a battle between chalk and cheese.

Newt does not play nice. Gingrich is a grump, who exudes an air of irascibility and impatience, as implacable as a tank, with an ego the size of Texas.

When he was accused of being grandiose he seized on it as a compliment. When he was asked about his worst mistake of the campaign, he said it was when he relied on advisers, not his own instinct.

For those who find Mitt Romney a man of milk and water, Gingrich is the strong meat they crave.

So Florida is going to be quite a contest. How much it will matter in the end is another matter.

There's no shortage of commentary in the American media excitedly proclaiming that the South Carolina result has upended the Republican race and blown it wide open..

I expect there will soon be a slew of commentators trying to prove they are more grown up, saying Mitt Romney will win anyway.

The truth lies somewhere in between.

Never mind that for more than 30 years South Carolina has always picked the Republican who goes on to win the nomination. No law of science says it has to be that way.

What is important is that Mitt Romney's campaign has been punctured. The recount of the Iowa result had already put a hole in his campaign. He is now merely the winner of one out of three contests.

But it won't really matter unless his opponents manage to do him further damage, so that the holes link up, cracks begin to spread and his entire campaign starts to crumble.

But Florida matters more than most states in this weird race. This whole process is about collecting delegates for a vote that most think will never happen. In other words it is about winning delegates who could, if needs be, vote at the Republican convention over the summer.

For years, in both parties, candidates have simply run out of steam before that is necessary. But some are now talking about the possibility of what is known as a brokered convention.

For this year, Florida has decided to flout the new Republican rules that say states have to distribute delegates in proportion to votes cast.

Florida is sticking by the old notion that winner takes all. So if Gingrich won here he would have the votes of all 50 delegates under his belt. That really would blow the race wide open.