Newt Gingrich led Mitt Romney 34-28 in PPP’s South Carolina polling last night, the first of what will be three nights of tracking. Ron Paul at 15%, Rick Santorum at 14%, Rick Perry at 5%, and Buddy Roemer at 3% round out the field. – Public Policy Polling

Why Cayman cash Mitt didn’t have a prepared answer for the tax return question is puzzling. He’s been programmed within an inch of his life since the start. From Forbes to Christian Science Monitor, few think it will matter. From Forbes:

The fact is that Romney is doing exactly the same thing that you and I do: he’s taking advantage of existing Tax Code. You wouldn’t expect him to volunteer to pay at a higher rate “just because” anymore than you would volunteer to give up your own mortgage interest deduction or offer to drop a personal exemption. There is absolutely nothing in the Tax Code that requires you to legally pay more taxes than you have to.

Romney’s tax return issue is in view, because even if he releases his 2011 returns, who doesn’t think they won’t be stacked for the election season? His dad released his financial information for several years, so that’s Mitt’s model.

It’s never the facts surrounding the candidate that takes him or her out, it’s the emotions the voter feels toward the candidate that do him in. It wasn’t the quote about firing people that did it by itself, it’s that it represented how people already feel about Mitt Romney.

“I get speaker’s fees from time to time, but not very much.” – Mitt Romney

It’s the nervous laugh that came afterward, reminiscent of the Bret Baier interview, that sounds so sour, because $374,327 is anything but “not very much.”

Then comes the story I’ve been waiting to break, and it’s not that he tithes millions including stock options to the Mormon Church. It’s Mitt Romney stashing millions in the Cayman Islands. From ABC News:

But tax experts tell ABC News there are other reasons Romney may not want the public viewing his returns. As one of the wealthiest candidates to run for president in recent times, Romney has used a variety of techniques to help minimize the taxes on his estimated $250 million fortune. In addition to paying the lower tax rate on his investment income, Romney has as much as $8 million invested in at least 12 funds listed on a Cayman Islands registry. Another investment, which Romney reports as being worth between $5 million and $25 million, shows up on securities records as having been domiciled in the Caymans.

Official documents reviewed by ABC News show that Bain Capital, the private equity partnership Romney once ran, has set up some 138 secretive offshore funds in the Caymans.

Nothing Mitt Romney is doing is illegal and according to Brian Beutler and others, the Romney camp is also saying that his Cayman cash is taxed as if the funds were in the U.S., so anyone implying they’re tax havens are wrong. Then why the secrecy?

But even that misses the issue. In an Occupy era, perception colors reality more harshly, with the GOP’s Cayman cash man representing all that ails our economic system.

Seen in an atmosphere that has Perry endorsing Newt Gingrich, while Santorum squeaks out a win in Iowa, though he just doesn’t have what it takes to capitalize, you also have Sarah Palin giving a nod to Gingrich, too. If the air around Cayman cash Mitt starts to erode his electability argument, always the weakest case for any candidate, the establishment will start to get very nervous, though they should be already. Because though Mitt Romney is an uninspiring candidate, Newt Gingrich will get creamed in the general, because women won’t vote for him. I’m not even sure they will in South Carolina and I felt this way long before the Marianne Gingrich bombshell due to explode tonight on Nightline

We’re about to see what Mitt Romney’s made of and just how good his election machine is, as well as whether the establishment rallies around him. With the southern state nomination swing season upon us, Romney will be in for it if the new polling and Gingrich surge is real, but watch out if he wins on Saturday.

There is passion tied to Newt, but not Romney, which is why Mitt’s machine tried to take him out in Iowa. But the viper you only wound can kill you, even if you live to tell about it.

But no matter the bad week Romney’s having, the one who really needs South Carolina is Newt Gingrich.