Thursday was a bad day for Mitt Romney.
The morning began with news that he actually lost the Jan. 3 caucus vote in Iowa to Rick Santorum. Then, sources say, Rick Perry droped out endorsed Newt Gingrich -- the only candidate that, according to the polls, has a good shot at beating Romney in South Carolina's Saturday vote.
"There is no viable path forward for me in this 2012 campaign...I am endorsing Newt Gingrich," Perry said. "We need bold conservative leadership that will take on the entrenched special interests and bring our country back. I believe the mission is greater than the man."
The one-two punch upset the political narrative about Romney as the inevitable Republican candidate.
Romney was already 2-0 heading into South Carolina. But the re-counted Iowa ballots show he's now 1-1. Romney was cruising ahead in South Carolina as well until the weekend debate where Gingrich got a standing ovation from the crowd. After that, polls showed the race tightening.
That makes Saturday's primary winner crucial -- especially in Florida, where the electorate is driven in large part by television.
"It's the narrative that matters. The winner in South Carolina matters," said David "DJ" Johnson, a former Republican Party of Florida executive director and Florida adviser to Jon Huntsman's now-scuttled campaign.
"Debates matter, too, and it just so happens there's one tonight," Johnson said.
But, he noted, the South Carolina winner isn't guaranteed a victory in Florida, which has more party-nominating delegates and Electoral College votes than the other three early-voting states combined.
Republicans have cast more than 138,000 absentee mail-in ballots already in Florida. Another 5,000 have early voted at the polls in some Florida counties, including Republican-rich Hillsborough. And Romney has been running a full-bore campaign targeting early voters by mail while spending an estimated $2.5 million on television commercials in Florida.
Only Gingrich has begun advertising in Florida -- but on radio. He has sent Republican voters two mail pieces at most. Romney has sent at least four to some voters.
Still, with Romney making such a strong push and him doing so well for so long, it's likely that he's leading in the 143,000 ballots already cast.
Gingrich also has a dose of bad news he'll have to deal with: His ex-wife, Marianne, told ABC News that Gingrich wasn't so holy when it came to their marriage, where he cheated with the congressional aide who's now his wife.
"And I just stared at him and he said, 'Callista doesn't care what I do,'" Marianne Gingrich told ABC News. "He wanted an open marriage and I refused."
In an evangelical-heavy state like South Carolina, where Gingrich has taken a conservative stance on abortion-restrictions and gay marriage, the interview could damage the former House Speaker.
Also, it's unclear how much Perry will support Gingrich and whether his support really means anything. Perry only garnered 6 percent of the vote in a CNN poll. And his campaign appearances in South Carolina have been characterized by small, unenthusiastic crowds.
Still, Perry's withdrawal narrows field where the conservative vote had been splintered. Now those conservative voters, assuming they don't suddenly back Romney, will have to decide between Santorum, Gingrich and Ron Paul, whose base appears to rest with younger and independent voters