Given these advantages, Romney now holds 35 percent support for the nomination, with his closest competitors bunched in the teens ““ 17 percent for Newt Gingrich, the latest in a string of contenders to see his support collapse; a steady 16 percent for Ron Paul; and 13 percent for Rick Santorum, who is up 10 points since his strong second in Iowa, but still far behind Romney nationally. – ABC News

This is a terrific ad by Santorum, which Mark Halperin reports is going up today, the day after he whined about Romney’s ads. It shows how it’s done against Romney. I’ve said it before, but why these guys didn’t go this route earlier just doesn’t make any sense. It’s also one reason why Republicans are very likely stuck with the guy. The other reason is Mitt’s machine, which no one in the race can replicate.

However, South Carolina isn’t settled yet.

Santorum didn’t have a great debate last night, but it wasn’t bad, going after Romney on felons voting and drawing some blood. It’s just Newt Gingrich was on his game, with one-liners at the ready. He also got a standing ovation at one point. It was Newt’s night.

Romney’s up 23 points in the latest national Gallup poll. These guys got their acts together way too late. Ron Brownstein:

None of the other candidates delivered a cogent and sustained ideological argument against Romney. Faced with a potential win-or-go-home scenario in Saturday’s South Carolina primary, Romney’s opponents have belatedly sharpened their ideological indictment against him, portraying the former Massachusetts governor as a moderate whom conservatives cannot trust. Newt Gingrich delivered an excoriating version of that critique last Sunday on CBS’s Face the Nation; Rick Santorum unveiled a like-minded South Carolina ad on Monday. But in one of their final opportunities to deliver that message to a big audience before Saturday’s critical vote, each of Romney’s opponents whiffed. No one mentioned his Massachusetts health care reform law (though it stars in Santorum’s new ad), and it was Romney himself who brought up his conversion on abortion. None in fact made a systematic argument of any sort against Romney. The attacks he faced were episodic, disjointed and often defensive, which leads to point two…

The part in bold above is key. You can’t beat a man with a massive campaign machine through hunt and peck political tactics. You need a strategy.

I know conservative Republicans keep being quoted as wanting to see Gingrich debate Obama, but then what? Do these people actually believe Newt Gingrich can win the presidency? I can’t name one state he could win.

The debate foreshadowed it’s going to be rough all the way to Saturday.

As for Ron Paul, Fox News Channel had people send in tweets to judge the candidates responses to questions, using hashtags of #answer or #dodge. John Roberts put up a graph with Ron Paul the only one never in negative territory, while Mitt Romney was in the minus category the entire debate. For what it’s worth, it proves Paul’s supporters were out in force, while Romney’s were definitely not.

Some other guy with a twang was on the stage, but he was inconsequential.

Mitt Romney did not have a great night. Newt bested him on foreign policy and at one point it looked like Romney was simply rolling out neoconservative talking points. He seemed like a man coasting and almost caught off guard.

Romney said some time around April and if he’s the nominee, he’ll release his tax returns. He also mentioned raising the Social Security eligibility age, as well as means testing seniors, both of which I believe Obama wants to do as well and could very well do in a second term; it brings them to a place of likely common ground. Then Romney drew a line on taxes, saying he wants to lower the top marginal tax rate to 25%, bringing it down from 35%, where it stands now. Pres. Obama wants to let it go back to Clinton era numbers, which would bring it up to 39.6%.

There’s a lot more from the ABC/Washington Post poll, which is worth a look, good and bad for Mitt Romney.