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Friday, January 06, 2012

A Preview of New Hampshire Weekend

One of my favorite facets of European history is the "balance of power." In this practical concept, if any one nation grew too strong, other countries allied in an effort to check the growing Goliath. European countries used the balance of the power against leaders like Louis XIV, Napoleon Bonaparte, and, most recently, Adolf Hitler. Simply, when one man or country grew too powerful, everyone around them looked at each other and said, "Something must be done before it's too late." (Anyone with the most basic experiences with the game of Risk is silently nodding their head right now.)

You see where I'm going with this.

Mitt Romney has a massive lead in New Hampshire. In the national polls, Gallup has him with 27 polling points to Newt Gingrich's 19, Ron Paul's 13, and Rick Santorum's 11. Rasmussen give him 29 with a quickly rising Santorum at 21, Gingrich at 16, and Paul at 12. Romney boasts the strongest national network of staff. Establishment Republicans continue to endorse him, like John McCain did this week (a head-scratcher, as I explained yesterday). In sum, there's a general consensus that he's the heavy favorite to be the Republican nominee. He has grown powerful. If anyone else wants to survive, his power has to be checked. This weekend, if Romney is Napoleon, the other five remaining candidates for the Republican nomination are the Eighth Coalition.

Of course, that doesn't mean they aren't lobbing grenades at each other, as well.

Take Ron Paul and Jon Huntsman. Both have their eye on a second place finish in New Hampshire. Huntsman, the most desperate candidate for a strong New Hampshire showing, went on the attack first with an anti-Paul ad. Paul (or one of his younger staffers who understand Twitter) came back with a taunting tweet, explaining he found Huntsman's "voter" in Iowa (note the lack of the s). Paul explained it was a staffer that Tweeted without the candidate's permission. Huntsman jabbed yesterday that Paul should have learned to stop letting others write under his name, a reference to Paul's controversial material from the early 1990s.

I wonder how worth their time these attacks are. Either candidate running ahead of the other in New Hampshire is not the ticket to the nomination. Though it might bring Huntsman a slight bump, and it would mean Paul yet again showing a "low ceiling but solid floor," Romney would continue to perform as expected.

To stay alive, both should join Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry, and Rick Santorum in their attacks on the favorite. (Gingrich and Santorum seem to understand they're competing for the anti-Romney crown.) If any one of the other candidates wants to take down Napoleon, they must work together; they must act as a coalition. This subplot--Romney against everyone--trumps all others this weekend as we tune in for the debates on Saturday night and Sunday morning. It's more than a subplot actually; it's a full-fledged plot.

As for subplots, here's one for each candidate:

Jon Huntsman: I'm interested to see how his "ignore Iowa" strategy will play out. The Washington Post is asking if he can be the "Rick Santorum of Iowa." Will New Hampshire reward his dedication to their state like Iowa did Santorum? If he finishes in the top 2, it might be a model for future candidates. Then again, even a top 2 finish won't ultimately save his candidacy, which explains his attacks on Romney so that Huntsman might potentially pull off the great upset in primary history.
What to look for at the debates: Goes after Romney and Paul. Huntsman needs top 2, and they're in the way. He might also point out that he's not as extreme to the right as Rick Santorum, which should play well in New Hampshire and also identify him as someone who defeat President Obama in November.

Rick Perry: Weird week for him. He finishes fifth in Iowa, but at a not terrible 10% of the vote. At first he hints that he was dropping out, but then he ultimately stayed in. It's been suggested that his decision to remain in the race developed from a clamor from national conservatives who still thought he was the man who could compete with Romney coast to coast. The week will end, unfortunately for Perry, with debates. New Hampshire, however, means nothing. He'll finish in sixth place but his chips are in South Carolina.
What to look for at the debates: 1) Hilarity. 2) He'll consistently hit on two themes, both aimed at South Carolina: 1) He has the conservatism of Rick Santorum, and 2) He is the most capable candidate to engage in a long campaign against Mitt Romney, hinting that Santorum cannot.

Ron Paul: Will he run top 3 again? Romney is locked in at #1. Huntsman has spent months there. Santorum is thriving off his Iowa bump. Gingrich has Saturday and Sunday debates to make a run on Tuesday. It's a fascinating top 5. If Paul finishes in the top 3, it's yet more evidence of his diehard following.
What to look for at the debates: Who does he attack? Does he try to limit Romney's win? Does he continue his feud with Jon Huntsman? Does he try to hold off Santorum and his hawkish platform? If I know Ron Paul, the answer is "Yes to all of the above."

Newt Gingrich: Wisely, Gingrich has his crosshairs focused squarely on Mitt Romney. He's adopted a similar strategy to Romney, actually. While Romney seems to go out of his way to only run against President Obama--note how Romney has rarely attacked another candidate on stage since Rick Perry was dueling with him at the top of the polls--Gingrich wants to be THE anti-Romney option. And if he stands up to him more than anyone else, if he criticizes him more than anyone else, if he paints the primary as Romney vs. Gingrich, than Gingrich can steadily coalesce the anti-Romney votes, especially among voters who are skeptical of a Santorum candidacy. Any kind of success in New Hampshire will help him maintain his December leads in South Carolina and Florida, where improved finishes in each state could catapult this into a two-man race with Romney (discussed here and here).
What to look for at the debates: An angry Gingrich on a mission will be a joy to watch. Romney better wear extra make-up.

Rick Santorum: The man of the hour. I question his decision to spend too much time in New Hampshire this week. Of course he should compete in the New Hampshire debates, but no matter what, he'll finish well behind Romney. Romney will then ride that momentum (and more endorsements) into South Carolina as Newt Gingrich tries to hold onto what's probably a flailing lead. Romney could then steadily pull away and it'd be nearly impossible to catch him.

Rather, Santorum should have been stumping in South Carolina this week. Thanks to his Iowan success, he'll get many conservative votes in New Hampshire, but let's not forget that this man completely ignored the Granite State during his famed tour of Iowa. He'll get a natural bump in the polls, but many other New Hampshire voters won't be convinced to vote for him simply because he spent an extra couple of days there this week. Therefore, he should have gone straight to South Carolina and competed for a victory there. Spending two weeks there to everyone else's one would have gone a long way to not just competing in the conservative state, but winning it.

And what would happen if he won South Carolina? He'd certainly end the candidacy of Rick Perry and take most of his future voters in the process. Moreover, unless Gingrich finished second in the Palmetto State (a difficult task if Santorum wins it, as Romney and Paul will obviously compete), he'll be gone, too. Remaining will be Romney, Paul, and Santorum. Few Republicans are interested in voting for Paul if they haven't already declared their desire to do so, which leaves Romney vs. Santorum, and the conservative base finally has their clear cut anti-Romney.

But alas, to New Hampshire he went.
What to look for at the debates: Manufacturing (Jobs) and social conservative message (Romney alternative). Repeat.

Mitt Romney: See intro to this post.
What to look for at the debates: That man will have no friends on stage this weekend, which will be a fun scene for 70 to 75 percent of Republicans.

Enjoy New Hampshire weekend! I'll be back on Monday (with small updates before then, potentially) with a New Hampshire Primary preview. See you then.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Fascinating historical perspective. Funny how it keeps repeating.

Whatever happened to Napoleon, anyway? I know what happened to a big piece of him -- somebody's got it in a jar of formaldehyde -- but what became of his France?

rich said...

First - glad to have you back BigChe, i've missed this

Second - when do you think the discussion about running mates becomes an issue? The republicans know their opposition in November and each candidate can start to suss out what mate they'll need to steal the moderates next year. Isn't this going to bleed through into the debates?

Kind of like a risk game against a friend who needs to give you a ride home later - balance of power sure, but you still need that ride home.

Will said...

@ Rich: Isn't Rubio everyone's VP?

@IC (BigChe?): I think you give Gingrich far too much credit. He's toast. I so like your Santorum analysis, though. Those were great points.

IC said...

Anon, I think many Republicans hope Romney will experience a similar fate.

Rich, it's good to be back. I'm not sure how long I can do this for, though. Depends if it takes off again. I think running mates won't be an issue until there's no viable path to the nomination for all but one candidate. I think it'd be poor form for any one of them to announce unless they have it clinched. Think the Gatorade shower late in the 3rd quarter of a blowout.

Will, Rubio, I think, would top Romney's list, but he might go for Santorum at this point, too.

As far as Gingrich goes, that was a damning South Carolina poll today. I'm reconsidering his odds as we speak. He'll need great debates this weekend to stay relevant.

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