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.