Nightly News   |  January 21, 2012

What’s at stake in South Carolina?

NBC's Chuck Todd, Andrea Mitchell and David Gregory provide insights and analysis on South Carolina's primary.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> let's bring in the nbc political team for insight, chuck todd and andrea mitchell and david gregory . david , we heard that it's a very conservative electorate in south carolina . it was a group of evangelical leaders who got together to figure out a plan to stop romney from running the table. any signs that that may have worked?

>> well, it may have strengthened rick santorum . actually something we'll be looking at as the night progresses, did it actually help newt gingrich ? or was he helped more by debate performances and by rick perry getting out of the race which may have gotten him some strong evangelical support. i'd keep my eye on electability. strong debate performances, a forcefulness about gingrich is what i think he's been trying to build on and i think that's what's created most of the momentum this week.

>> chuck, win or lose, what's the take away from romney . his experience in south carolina and what it means as he marches toward florida ?

>> well, you know, the concern for the romney campaign has always been their first conservative test, this south carolina is a conservative test. so is florida . but what's interesting about the romney campaign over the last 24 hours is now they're now down playing the strategy of trying to wrap up the nomination early. they're back to saying what they said to us in november is we're a campaign built for the long haul. translation on that code, it means they're concerned about losing tonight and they know that florida now is the first big test in a big state and they want to see if their resources can overcome their problems with conservatives.

>> andrea, things got nasty in south carolina . we heard in peter's report a saying she -- she hangs up the phone know when she gets the calls. how is all that playing with voters in south carolina ?

>> well, the one thing is that ever there was a state that voters are used to the nasty campaigns it's south carolina . there's a long history of rough and tumble politics there. four years ago, lester, a candidate for state office reportedly hired an undocumented worker to infiltrate a crew painting the house of his opponent and then accused the opponent of hiring illegal workers. all the way back in the 1800s there was a caning against a massachusetts caning, a savage caning and then the experience of john mccain , defeated in south carolina after false allegations. there was a fake e-mail accusing newt gingrich of misconduct and it was followed up by a denial on his own campaign letter ahehead. now the romney campaign is sending a cake to him to mark the 15th anniversary of his ethics reprimand. i asked the republican charge about this today and he said by south carolina standards this one has been tame.

>> all right. andrea, chuck and david , our thanks to all of you and a quick program note . newt gingrich will be among david 's guests tomorrow morning on "meet the press."