So there you have it. Mitt Romney is now two for two. After narrowly winning in Iowa last week, the former Massachusetts governor followed up with a much stronger showing in New Hampshire on Tuesday night. Ron Paul finished second, and Jon Huntsman finished third. The exit polls were full of interesting information, but it’s important to note that regardless of how the media and establishment Republicans spin the data, the race for the GOP nomination is far from over.
First, here’s a summary of the results from the New Hampshire primary:
Mitt Romney: 95,699 (39%)
Ron Paul: 55,455 (23%)
Jon Huntsman: 40,903 (17%)
Newt Gingrich: 22,921 (9%)
Rick Santorum: 22,708 (9%)
Rick Perry: 1,709 (1%)
Now, before you can attach any trends to the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primaries, one must keep in mind that these are two very different states. They are both small, but the Iowa caucuses bring out the more conservative GOP voters, while New Hampshire is much more moderate. A conservative Republican in New Hampshire would probably be considered a moderate Democrat here in Texas.
A look at the exit polls from New Hampshire shows that “Romney was backed by 42 percent of New Hampshire conservatives, more than twice the share won by his nearest rival, Texas Rep. Ron Paul.” Impressive? Yes. Unexpected? No. Keep in mind that Romney was the governor of a nearby state, the state is moderate and small, and he has a vacation home in the state. Romney was going to win. Period. And it is certainly a stretch to say that he now has some kind of coalition of conservatives and moderates behind him.
In the case of electability, Romney stood out from the pack:
By many measures, voters looking for a November winner said Romney was the way to go.
Given four choices, over one third said the key quality they sought in a candidate Tuesday was the ability to defeat Obama. Of those voters, 62 percent picked Romney, bettering the 48 percent he received from them in Iowa.
Regardless of whom they voted for, 56 percent in New Hampshire named Romney as the GOP contender with the best shot at victory in November.
These electability statistics are more valuable, because they are consistent with what we have been seeing for months. Romney is seen by GOP voters across the country (not just in New Hampshire) as the candidate who has the best chance of beating Barack Obama. That alone is a huge hurdle for other GOP contenders to overcome.
The Associated Press story paints a bleak picture of the results regarding Rick Santorum. When talking about Santorum, the news story reads, “The exit poll showed disappointments galore for Santorum, who had high hopes after his surprisingly strong Iowa finish.”
Santorum won just small fractions of the votes of Catholics and working-class people, groups he has hoped to appeal to because of his own background.
He was only able to finish about even with Romney among New Hampshire voters considering themselves very conservative and with born-again or evangelical voters. He trailed both Romney and Paul among tea party backers.
I don’t even know where to start. First, just the spin of the opening statement needs some addressing. By calling his finish in Iowa “surprisingly strong” indicates that it was a fluke. Iowa is much more conservative than New Hampshire, and Santorum invested all his time there. The surge that he experienced the last two weeks before the election was proof that a good showing in Iowa would NOT be a surprise.
But then we have the Iowa results. Did Santorum have “high hopes.” Maybe… everybody wants to win, but let’s look at reality. Jon Huntsman completely dismissed the Iowa caucuses to focus on New Hampshire. Mitt Romney is a local favorite. Ron Paul goes after independents, and New Hampshire is famous for its moderate, independent streak. In addition, it’s practically impossible to use the momentum of a win (or near win) in Iowa into a strong showing in New Hampshire with only a week in between. That is simply not enough time. New Hampshire voters expect to see the candidates in their living rooms. If the candidate isn’t there, it makes a big difference.
The fact is that Santorum did what he needed to do (almost). With Romney, Paul, and Huntsman leading the pack, the real story of the night was who was going to emerge as the top conservative. Santorum and Gingrich were neck and neck all night. THAT is the big story of the evening, because now the race moves to South Carolina, and that is where we will see if there is any momentum from his Iowa surge.
Santorum was top conservative in Iowa, and essentially tied in New Hampshire. In order for the race for the nomination to continue, he needs a win in South Carolina. If Romney goes three for three in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina, it’s done… game over.
The South Carolina primary will be held on January 21. Rick Perry, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Santorum will be dumping everything they have into the state. Will voters respond? Will Romney wrap things up? These next three weeks will tell the story.