Tonight, New Hampshire voters said enough. With months of televised debates and one caucus, voters in the Granite State said they are ready for the primary season to end, the real campaign to begin and they want Mitt Romney to be their candidate. The former governor of Massachusetts did what he needed to, he topped the field and garnered around 37% of the vote, beating Ron Paul the Congressman from somewhere west of Mars who place second with a little less than a quarter of the vote, and Jon Huntsman in third, twenty points behind the leader.
The voting splits are only part of the story. Despite what you may be reading in the Mainstream Media exit polls reflect that almost two thirds of Republicans were satisfied with the choice of candidates. The number one reason people selected their candidate was electability. Almost sixty percent of those who chose electability as their priority voted for Romney. Romney also performed best with voters who were dissatisfied and down-right angry with President Obama.
My sources on the ground on primary day tell me there was a major sense of anger amongst the GOP voters but directed toward the former speaker of the house, Newt Gingrich. During the last days of the campaign Gingrich, who claims his policies are to the right of Romney, started to attack the front-runner from the left. The supposedly conservative candidate attacked free-enterprise, criticizing the Romney tenure at Bain Capital, doing a set-up job for the expected Barack Obama class-warfare campaign against success.
If one listens closely, each time a Republican candidate attacks Mitt Romney as being a “corporate raider,” you hear the Obama campaign filming another class-warfare commercial, this one starring Newt Gingrich’s stump speeches over the past few days. Should Obama win a second term many will look to Newt Gingrich’s childish scorched earth-type rhetoric as providing much of the ammo.
New Hampshire was a key state for Jon Huntsman who finished a disappointing third (only in politics can someone place third and call it a win, but in actuality third place simply means he was the second-best loser). Exit polling suggests that Huntsman’s third place votes came from surprising sources, people who were generally satisfied with Obama, people who consider themselves to be liberal and voters who think of themselves as Democrats. The former Utah Governor’s support in New Hampshire is not transferrable to the next primary South Carolina (more conservative than NH) or Florida which follows (Florida is a closed, GOP voters-only primary).
Second-place winner (the first-place loser) Ron Paul, attracted even more liberal voters than Huntsman and his support was strongest with the youngest of voters (aged 18-24). Consequently Ron Paul’s support came from outside the Republican Party.
The Romney campaign would like for us to believe that it’s all over, and he will now steamroll through the rest of the primary states. The proverbial “fat lady” has not sung, but she is certainly in her dressing room warming up.
In a week and a half it will be South Carolina’s turn to pick a GOP candidate. No Republican has ever received the nomination without winning the South Carolina primary. On the other hand, no Republican has ever won South Carolina without winning either Iowa or New Hampshire, so tradition would indicate that Romney, who won the first two contests should win South Carolina. But this has been a very strange political year.
As of today Romney is leading in South Carolina but between now and the primary on January 21 he will face strong attacks from Santorum, Gingrich and Perry (Ron Paul and Huntsman don’t resonate in the conservative South Carolina). If the attacks connect with the voters, anything can happen. For these three “not-Romney” candidates a win in South Carolina is essential. A Romney win in South Carolina will undoubtedly lead win in Florida on the 31st. Should Romney sweep SC and Florida “it’s all over but the vote counting,” so South Carolina is the last stand of the “not-Romneys.”