How might the descroption of the New Hampshire Primary go? There of course were the winners and losers. Beyond that, the yo-yo of Republican candidates trying to sit alongside Mitt Romney once again changed the rankings.
The latest series of dance partners with Mitt Romney was lead by Rep. Ron Paul. That was followed by Jon Huntsman, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Santorum – in that order. The vote count was:
Mitt Romney – 39.4%
Rep. Ron Paul – 22.8%
Jon Huntsman – 16.8%
Newt Gingrich – 9.4%
Rick Santorum – 9.3%
Gov. Rick Perry – .07%
Romney was expected to run away with New Hampshire, considering his 5 year campaign approach to the State anything less than a wide margin would have been devestating. With a cushion of 16.4%, confirmation of the effort in the face of a blitz of ads attacking Romney, little question remains that Romney is the frontrunner. Until a single candidate can be identified as his opponent, or if this remains a race by many, Romney is the Republican nominee.
Still there will be no end to the comments from his opponents. Jon Huntsman is claiming a victory from New Hampshire. Newt Gingrich is still in the fight. Rick Santorum hasn’t gotten a knockout yet. And of course Rep. Paul lingers on. That’s the news various publications and the candidates will spread today.
The reality though is that Huntsman, having put virtually all his eggs into New Hampshire only managed to get 17% of the vote (rounding up to be kind). While that is significant compared to his 1% finish in Iowa and barely noticible polling numbers from 2011, it is hardly a claim that the Republican mainstream is seeking him out. In a game where 2nd place might get you the win in 2016, Huntsman seems capable of maybe getting to 4th. If his momentum can keep up without loss of steam.
Rick Santorum is the big loser of the night. He took a huge drop, not just in the overall votes. According to exit polls, Santorum lost to Romney with the Tea Party and Evangelicals – 2 groups critical to his win in Iowa. They also represent the core of the base of voters for Santorum. Still Santorum, like Huntsman, is more concerned with South Carolina and the results there.
Both men, rising from the dead in 2011, have little cash as compared to Romney. Neither has as strong a national presence or election staff. Their main hope is to feed off the cash, clout, and media attention that Gingrich is bring on Romney. At times, listening to Gingrich speak about Romney, it sounds as if Gingrich is resigned to lose as long as he can take down Romney with him.
The problem for all 3 men is the fact that exit polling shows that 6 in 10 voters felt that they would be comfortable with Romney if he were to be the Republican nominee this year. Which means that all three could suffer dramatically if they encounter any hiccups (ie. political ads that do to them what they are doing to Romney), or if campaign donations slow down. Which says nothing of events like Huntsman not getting placed for the Arizona Primary (Feb 28th).
Perhaps the worst news for everyone except Romney (and to an extent Rep. Paul) was that 4 out of 5 voters stated in exit polls that they had made up their minds BEFORE primary day. A strong indication that many voters have already made up their mind on who they will vote for. Given that Iowa did not reflect this, South Carolina may be more of a definitive answer on how locked in Republicans are.
The great news for whomever is the Republican nominee is that exit polls showed that the economy is the primary concern on voters minds. 6 out of 10 felt it was the most important issue. 7 out of 10 feel “very worried” about the economy, which massively exceeds the result for 2008. 2/3 stated they were just holding even.
Another positive for Republicans was who voters in New Hampshire blame. 4 out of 10 felt angry at Obama Administration policies. In addition 4 out of 10 were “dissatisfied” with the obama Administration. This was not just the Republicans that held this view. 1/3 of those identiifiying themselves as Independants (a group that surged versus 2008) were equally angry.
Lest we leave him out, Rep. Ron Paul had some good news that is sure to get press attention. 4 in 10 of the first time voters (12% of New Hampshire Primary voters in 2012) chose him over any other candidate. Like in Iowa, this is a clear indication of the base of support for Rep. Paul is growing. But as stated prior, the results of the votes show a distinct advantage to more traditional candidates.
Based on the results thus far, we would venture to say that the results in South Carolina might be something like this:
Mitt Romney: 29 – 32%
Rick Santorum: 19 – 22%
Rep. Ron Paul: 22%
Gov. Rick Perry (assuming he stays in the race): 9 – 11%
Newt Gingrich: 9 – 11%
Jon Huntsman: 3 – 6%
Obviously there is a margin of some 4% (on the high side) that is up for grabs. That difference will likely be locked down by the ads that will appear, endorsements (mostly for Romney we believe), and last minute guidance by preachers. As always, the chance for something exotic happening/being said is out there and could change everything. But at this point we think it unlikely.
Romney may get a bit bruised and scoffed at over the next few Primaries and Caususes, but it is unlikely that this will be unclear for too long.