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Wednesday, January 11, 2012

New Hampshire Primary Analysis

That, PPFA readers, was a bust of a night.

That is, unless you're a fan of Mitt Romney. With about 40 percent of the vote (with 3 percent of precincts still to finalize, his current 39 percent could rise or fall a point in the next day or so), Romney met the, albeit adjusted, expectations. Moreover, the clear-cut second place finisher, Ron Paul, is not at all considered a threat to win the nomination, and the clear-cut third place finisher, Jon Huntsman, is not considered one of Romney's top rivals. Far back were the candidates that most pundits perceive as the only threat to Romney. Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, also-rans fighting for scraps of the New Hampshire table--fourth place. Simply put, last night was a win for the Romney Campaign on several levels.

If you're a fan of any of the other candidates, however, or of a long, drawn out, complicated six months of primary pandemonium, you went to bed awfully disappointed. This race might be over in ten days. This race might be over now.

There is, however, some good news. My predictions were perfect. Every candidate placed in the order I predicted, including Gingrich edging out Santorum in an unpredictable squeaker, and all percentages were between their best and worst realistic case scenarios.

Now, the bad news. There's not much more New Hampshire analysis to do. There was nothing at all surprising from last night's primary.

What's more relevant, probably, are the primary's preceding days and their effects on the days to come. Romney's New Hampshire numbers certainly dipped over the last few days, and much of the field levied a counterintuitive, anti-capitalistic charge against Romney's overplayed sound byte concerning firing people who do a bad job and his history with Bain. I'll be interested to see if, moving forward, this settling of his polling numbers continues, or if his New Hampshire win will ensure that those numbers bottomed out on January 9 and now steadily rise as he saturates the airwaves in South Carolina and Florida.

As always, the most important aspect of a primary is how it shapes the next primary and beyond. Incredibly--though, considering the results, not surprisingly--no candidate dropped out. Camp Romney must be thrilled that six candidates remain heading into South Carolina, and many of them continue to split the conservative base.

Here's the breakdown for each candidate. As I did with Iowa, I'll discuss them in reverse order of finish.

6. Rick Perry--Less than 1% of New Hampshire vote
What New Hampshire represented: Nothing. Perry did not compete.
How New Hampshire results affect candidacy: Not at all.
What candidate must do moving forward: Drop out with anything less than third place in South Carolina.

5. Rick Santorum--10%
What New Hampshire represented: Rick Santorum doesn't play well away from conservative areas. New Hampshire might be the most conservative state in New England, but compared to the Midwest and Deep South, the Granite State is downright Bolshevik.
How New Hampshire results affect candidacy: No real effect on his own campaign, other than Romney pulling away after their Iowa virtual tie. Since nothing was gained by spending time in New Hampshire, perhaps he now realizes that my plan (found here before Iowa and here after it) for him to spend this past week in South Carolina in an effort to win the state--thusly getting the best head start in becoming the conservative alternative to Romney--was the better strategy than his failed attempt at campaigning in moderate New Hampshire.
What candidate must do moving forward: Pull an Iowa in South Carolina. Take his far right social conservatism to the south and deny Romney a third win. After South Carolina, not one of the subsequent nine states in the Republican primary schedule are in his wheelhouse. (Florida, Nevada, Maine, Colorado, Minnesota, Missouri, Arizona, Michigan, Washington.) Anything out of the South Carolina top three and he's likely finished. With Perry facing similar circumstances, rest assured one or both of these two candidates will not make it to Florida.

If Santorum wins South Carolina, we won't hear that Romney has two wins and one loss in three states. We'll hear that Romney and Santorum each have one win, one loss, and one tie. And it'd be all square with two candidates left, one of them--Santorum--the conservative survivor.

4. Newt Gingrich--10%
What New Hampshire represented: His candidacy is on its last breath.
How New Hampshire results affect candidacy: Gingrich might be on his last breath, but with hate's sake, he'll spit his last breath at Romney. Mitt Romney, my friends, is rapidly becoming Newt Gingrich's white whale.
What candidate must do moving forward: He must pile upon the Romney's white hump the sum of all the rage and hate felt by his whole race from Adam down. If his chest is a cannon, he would shoot his heart upon it. (I hope that was as fun to read as it was to write. Any time you can squeeze in "pile upon the Romney's white hump" in a sentence, you just have to do it. Just call me Ishmael.)

Newt's anti-Romney ads are going to peak in South Carolina. Gingrich might lose the nomination, but he'll do everything to take Romney down with him.

And think about it--there are ten days until January 21st's South Carolina Primary. Ten days. After Romney was hammered over the weekend and lost five points on his home turf, I wonder what ten days in the South can do to a Massachusetts Mormon with a moderate past. His South Carolina poll lead might not last until the 21st, and Gingrich might be the reason why. It won't be pretty.

3. Jon Huntsman--17%
What New Hampshire represented: A week ago, 17 percent looked great for the Huntsman Campaign, but after the surge in expectations by primary day, he has to be a little disappointed he couldn't break 20.
How New Hampshire results affect candidacy: A second place finish might have led to the seventh national surge of a Republican candidate, but with a third place finish, that won't happen. But it was still a top 3 result, which kept his candidacy alive.
What candidate must do moving forward: Two options.
--1) Get a five million dollar check from his billionaire father who now sees his son has a chance if the voters get to know him. Through this strategy, he competes in South Carolina, probably limiting Romney's Carolinian numbers (which would only be fair as Gingrich, Perry, and Santorum split the conservative voters).
--2) Go directly to Florida. Florida is not a proportional primary; rather, it's a winner take all state. Could Huntsman repeat his Iowa-New Hampshire strategy and skip a conservative state (South Carolina) to compete in a moderate one (Florida)? It's an option. He has three weeks until the Florida Primary. He has a small surge. He can be there as the others fight in South Carolina. He seems to be hitting his stride on the campaign trail and debates. If Romney is limited in South Carolina by the conservative base and Huntsman steals Florida, then Huntsman will earn the 40 post-penalty delegates (50% penalty on their 80 due to holding their primary earlier than the RNC directed). Those forty delegates would be enough to thrust Huntsman into the delegate lead. And then, the last Republican candidate would surge, and the party might have their final anti-Romney. Food for thought.

Interesting note: Huntsman's recent speeches, including his speech last night, focused on immediate withdrawal from Afghanistan and appealed to the youth vote. Could he be courting Ron Paul voters? Probably yes, but Ron Paul voters are a tough group off of which to siphon. I don't think it'll work.

2. Ron Paul--23%
What New Hampshire represented: Nothing we didn't already know.
How New Hampshire results affect candidacy: Not at all. Chalk up another top 3 for the most passionate political minority constituency in recent history.
What candidate must do moving forward: Keep doing his Ron Paul thing. Last night he characterized himself as the true Romney alternative, but I don't think mainstream Republicans are biting at that bit.

Interesting note: Two of the top three spots in New Hampshire were won last night by anti-war Republicans. That is not the Republican Party of the last decade. Might it be the GOP of the next?

1. Mitt Romney--39%
What New Hampshire represented: It confirmed what we already knew. Homefield advantage is huge in politics.
How New Hampshire results affect candidacy: As mentioned earlier, not only did he meet his 40 percent goal, but the other candidates came in a perfect order for him. His win in New Hampshire also sets up South Carolina as High Noon for Romney and his rivals, and we can expect Romney to go for the kill shot on the 21st. Not only does he have a lead in the polls there, but he has a nice little moderate base on the coast that thinks differently than its rural, inland, more conservative cousin. Still, if someone else wins South Carolina, Romney would be vulnerable.
What candidate must do moving forward: Spend his time on South Carolina, but saturate the airwaves of Florida. I heard Florida referred to as Romney's "firewall," and that term works splendidly here. If a conservative candidate breaks through in South Carolina, Romney needs to make sure that this candidate's momentum is terminated in Florida before the primary process goes national.

A holistic look at the Romney candidacy reveals that he's run a brilliant campaign. Consider that no Republican candidate has won Iowa and New Hampshire if he wasn't a sitting president. Ever. Consider that from the outset he's been running a campaign against President Obama and letting his SuperPAC do all the attacks on his fellow Republicans. Brilliant. Consider that he's raised more money than any other Republican candidate and is always airing adds in future states, softening the ground for his later arrival, while campaigning in current ones. Genius.

Then, last night, note the hawkishness of his speech. He clearly considers Paul and Huntsman non-factors, so he has no reason to court their voters. Romney said that he would create "a military so powerful that no one would think of challenging it." Make no mistake, that saber-rattling rhetoric was his appeal to the Republican base in the south.

Like I said on Monday, he could win fifty states. And this would be as a Mormon from Massachusetts who once supported Roe v. Wade, gay rights, and universal health care for his state. And he's running for the Republican nomination.

Incredible.

Stay tuned in the coming days for the evolution of the primary as we head toward South Carolina.

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