By Chelsey Seidel
How did Mitt Romney lose South Carolina to Newt Gingrich? The disbelief registered on the face of David Pattinson, a British television host visiting the U.S. to investigate the availability of careers for young people.
"I don't know how it happened but I wouldn't say I was surprised. Gingrich had two really strong debates this week, and I thought Mitt Romney struggled a little bit with his tax situation," he said as he shrugged his shoulders and raised his eyebrows.
Pattinson will be following the GOP candidates, particularly Romney, until the November election as part of a story on how politicians are helping young people deal with the recession.
"We want to find out what Mitt Romney is going to do to help the economy, what he's going to do to help jobs in America," he said.
Romney's election party in the Moore Building at the South Carolina State Fairgrounds was a sea of supporters Saturday night.
As the stage lights blazed down on an anxious crowd waiting for Romney to come to the podium, beads of sweat cluttered the foreheads of chanting fans. An enthusiastic supporter stood in front of the bleachers with her arms raised like a conductor as she led the crowd in cheers of "Romney, president!" and "We want Mitt!"
Country music blared, giving the crowd more incentive to cheer louder.
Matt Lettelleir, of Florida, a political campaign consultant and Romney volunteer, swayed to the music with a beer in one hand and cellphone in the other
As he focused on peeling the soggy napkin that gripped his cold beer, he said that Romney's loss in South Carolina has no reflection on the former Massachusetts Governor's popularity, and he compared Romney's plans for the Jan. 31 Florida primary to a college spring break.
"Going down to Florida and making the party happen," he said.
Lettelleir said Newt Gingrich had luck in debates because he had questions that played to his strengths and allowed him to attack the media.
"Perry dropping out and throwing his support behind Gingrich definitely helped too. Florida is totally different," said Lettelleir. "Romney has had a very strong team down there for the past nine months, and they're a top-notch group working their rear ends off to get this thing done."
Romney took the stage in true presidential candidate fashion as he shook frantic hands and smiled for spontaneous photos. As he adjusted the microphone, the crowd roared so loudly, Mitt paused. The noise died down, he slowly looked around and joked, "Man, can you imagine how loud it would have been if I would have won?" Immediately diffusing any doubts within the crowd that Romney was losing his luster, a wave of laughter rolled through the room as people settled in and locked their eyes on the stage.
Charlie Condon, former S.C. attorney general, commended Romney for his performance in the Palmetto State, saying he was "perfect."
"You have to remember that Gingrich is a former congressman from Georgia, so he's campaigning in his backyard. So for Gov. Romney to come in a close second tonight, he's in a very good position for this nomination," said Condon.
One last "Mitt 2012" chant rippled through the thinning mass. Romney and his wife, Ann, waved goodbye and thanked the crowd for their dedication.
Lettelleir, still clutching his same beer, hollered to Romney that he would see him soon in Florida.
Romney responded: "I appreciate it. We'll see you there."