In case you hadn’t noticed, yesterday New Hampshire had a primary. Mitt Romney won. Here’s five other things you should know.
- Mitt Romney may be inevitable: Romney wasn’t running so much against the other Republican candidates as against expectations in New Hampshire. Since the state is a second home for the front-runner, he was expected to win – and win big. Earlier, I wrote that anything less than 40% of the vote would be disappointing for his camp. Well, Romney met and possibly beat expectations. 40% of the vote? Check. Double digit lead over number 2? Check – second place finisher Ron Paul finished 17 points back. Increase in share over his 2008 run? Check – he even beat 2008 winner John McCain’s share. On top of all that, he pulled off a feat no non-incumbent Republican has managed: first place finishes in both Iowa and New Hampshire. That’s pretty impressive. One can forgive Mitt if he’s feeling a bit smug today.
- Then again, maybe not: Now comes the hard part for Romney. The campaign shifts to the South, with the South Carolina primary on January 21 up next, followed by Florida on January 31. Yes, South Carolina, home to the Tea Party and where over half the Republican electorate identifies as being evangelical. The state is about as diametrically opposed to New Hampshire as one gets. Look for the attacks to come fast and furious now, as the various conservative alternatives pile-on in an attempt to paint Romney as nothing more than Barack Obama in Mormon clothing. If he falters at all, it could open the door to one of the other challengers to get a crucial win and pull the shine off the campaign’s front runner.
- Kiss Jon Huntsman good–bye: Huntsman bet the ranch on if not a win, then at least a strong showing in the Granite State. A 17% third place finish doesn’t really meet the standard. Really, he has no one else to blame but himself (and maybe his campaign manager). I’ve been watching politics for over three decades and I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a more disjointed campaign. His only concrete position seemed to be anti-everything Republican Party. He never adequately defended his diplomatic service in the current administration – and seemed pro-China in his foreign policy. Actually, I’ve never figured how he lasted this long, other than that the mainstream media loves the guy. Unless he’s willing to spend his considerable fortune to fly around the country bashing Romney (it’s possible), Iook for Huntsman to slip quietly away. And for David Brooks to write a column lambasting fellow Republicans for not giving Huntsman a fair shot.
- New Hampshire still hates social conservatives: Beware social conservatives in 2016. You may want to skip New Hampshire. The combined vote totals for the three social conservative candidates didn’t even match Huntsman’s total. This comes four years after social conservatives Mike Huckabee, Fred Thompson and Duncan Hunter split 13% of the vote. New Hampshire may be the home of fiscal conservatism and small government, but they don’t want their politicians dealing with personal matters of faith or family.
- Can Ron Paul keep the momentum moving? Paul has managed to harness large numbers of college students, independents and disaffected Democrats in both Iowa and New Hampshire, each time coming in with slightly more than 1/5 of the vote (21.8% in Iowa; 22.9% in New Hampshire). But neither electorate is as conservative as South Carolina’s. And Florida’s electorate is more than slightly older than college age. Can he continue to pull 1/5 of the vote (and be a thorn in the GOP’s rear at the same time)? If yes, then look for him to seriously contest Romney in the remaining caucus states. If his decidedly isolationist foreign policy scares the large number of military retirees in South Carolina and anti-Social Security/Medicare stance riles up the Floridians, Paul will be a footnote in a history text.
- Can conservatives rally in time? South Carolina is social conservatives last real opportunity to derail the Romney train. So far, it looks like a repeat of 2008, when Mike Huckabee and Fred Thompson beat each other up. McCain wound up winning the state; Thompson was forced to drop out and Huckabee was never a real factor again. This year, you can cast Rick Santorum as Huckabee and Rick Perry as Thompson – but the script looks awfully familiar. (The difference is this year we have Newt Gingrich, but more on him in a moment). Like Huckabee, Santorum pulled off a surprising finish in Iowa. Like Huckabee, he virtually disappeared in New Hampshire. Perry, like Thompson, was an also-ran in Iowa. Unlike Thompson, he didn’t even register as a blip in New Hampshire (really Rick? Less than 1% of the vote?). The conservative’s best hope is a pair of confab’s taking place this weekend, one in Texas and the other in South Carolina. If the powers that be can’t decide to back one of the conservatives left in the race, look for a replay of 2008.
- Newt Gingrich is now…a Democrat?!? We all knew Newt loathes Mitt. We all knew Newt was waiting for his chance to go “nucular” on Mitt after the way Romney and his SuperPAC demolished Gingrich’s chances in Iowa. None of us realized how far Newt would go. In fact, over the past 48 hours, Newt sounds more like Barack Obama than a Republican in his denunciation of free markets and Romney’s participation. He’s already been blasted by conservative media (see video below). And, his attack didn’t help him in New Hampshire, where he only polled 9% of the vote. Is Newt going to continue along this line, or will party bosses work to neuter him? If there’s one thing the past 25 years has taught us, it’s that Newt will always put himself above party. But still, it’s an amazing turn-around for a man who only ten days ago was chiding his fellow candidates for breaking the Reagan Commandment – even for Newt Gingrich.
- The Obama Campaign better be nervous: Ok, New Hampshire really isn’t indicative of the country as a whole. But still, turnout in yesterday’s primary beat 2008 by better than 10% as unhappy Democrats and Independents showed up to vote Republican. Even taking away the pull of Ron Paul, that’s a lot of people who voted for Obama in 2008 who decided to vote for somebody else this year. The first referendum on the Obama presidency is in, and it isn’t good news for the current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Well, well. It seems Rick Perry took one look at his war chest and decided he’s back in the race. About 12 hours after a dejected and deflated Perry seemingly left the race, he tweeted he was back in. Only caveat: he appears to be bypassing New Hampshire entirely and going for broke in South Carolina.
Skipping New Hampshire makes sense for Perry. That’s Mitt Romney’s back yard and Romney is expected to crush his competition there. Unfortunately for Granite Staters, it makes their primary virtually irrelevant, barring another Rick Santorum miracle or surprise from Jon Huntsman.
No, the real battle becomes a fight for the anti-Romney vote in South Carolina. Perry, well financed but bumbling vs. Rick Santorum, newly minted as the anti-Romney favorite. It should be fun to watch the two conservatives with vastly different styles going after the same voters. Will Perry’s southern charm and immense campaign coffers allow him to overcome the fact he can’t seem to utter a coherent sentence in public? Or will Santorum’s down-to-earth, middle-class sensibilities combine with his oratorical repertoire in wooing over South Carolina’s conservative base?
We’ll know the answer in 16 days. Until then, game on!
Here we go again. In four days, the nation is going to let a state representing 7 electoral votes set the tone for the quadrennial Presidential Election process. This state is hardly representative of the nation as a whole, either. The residents of Iowa have more disposable income than the rest of us. Demographically, Iowa is less ethnically diverse, less educated and more rural than the country in general. The state’s largest city, Des Moines, is ranked 106th in total population and 98th in population density – making it more a large suburb than an actual city.
Why do we do this? Why do we allow 1.2% of the nation’s populace decide the fate of the Unites States for the next four years? I can’t think of a particularly good reason. But I can think of a particularly good way to end the charade. Have all primaries conducted on the same day.
To be clear, I am NOT advocating for federal administration of primary elections. The states have done a fine job running them. If they would rather have the circus atmosphere of a caucus than an election, fine. If they want restrictive and onerous ballot rules, okay. This is directed at the national parties, who are responsible for creating the primary schedule and have perpetrated the insanity of allowing a very non-representative portion of the population to determine their candidates for President. (After Iowa comes New Hampshire, with its four electoral votes and even less representative of the nation).
But a National Primary Day does several things to help end the confusion common to Presidential primaries. First, it effectively ends the candidacy of people with marginal appeal. Let’s face it, by focusing all of their energies on one small state, some pretty marginal people have been able to enter the national conversation based on one position – only to fade into political oblivion. Mike Huckabee won Iowa, only to become a talk show host. Pat Buchanan used Iowa to re-energize a fading career as a political pundit. Howard Dean made plenty of noise in Iowa, only to become a punch-line on late night television. This year, can anyone really imagine that the race baiting history of a Ron Paul wouldn’t be a political albatross in states with more than a 5% minority population? Or that single issue candidates Michelle Bachmann or Rick Santorum would be players on a national stage?
Second, having all Presidential primaries contested at the same time would require candidates to create a national political organization. Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry were surprised by their inability to get on the Virginia primary ballot. Yet the underlying reason is their inability to properly organize. Gingrich can be excused, in a sense; his campaign is underfunded and was largely seen as a joke until last month (although, residing in Virginia probably means he should have understood the rules better than any other candidate). Perry, however, has oodles of money – more than anyone in the race not named Romney – and his inability is due simply to a lack of campaign oversight. Seriously, do we want a President who can’t organize well enough to ensure he’s on every state ballot? Or hire someone to do that for him? Making speeches is one thing, but ensuring the basics are attended to is an essential leadership trait. The United States federal government is a much larger enterprise than any political campaign. A candidate who can’t assume the responsibilities of Chief Executive of a political campaign certainly can’t be trusted to be the Chief Executive of the United States.
Finally, a National Primary Day ensures that every primary vote carries the same weight. The essential element is this: by giving various states an initial say in the nominating process, the citizens voting later have less input. Odds are that by the time “Super Tuesday” rolls around, the parties have already settled on a presumptive nominee. By the time I get to cast a ballot in June, the nominee has been decided – voting becomes nothing more than a pro forma exercise in civic responsibility. The effect, of course, is suppressed turnout in those states, which has dramatic effects on down ballot candidates and initiatives.
It is time to end the madness. Allowing the voters in Iowa (or New Hampshire) to have more input than voters in California (or us poor New Jerseyans) is one 19th century idea whose time has passed.