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120111 Reflections on the New Hampshire Primary

Reflections on the New Hampshire Primary

Another of those quadrennial American political traditions—the New Hampshire Primary—is now history, and, all in all, it was a somewhat sleepy affair. The winner had been apparent for awhile, and most of the real suspense revolved around the relative standing of the other candidates. Below is a quick look at each contender:

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (39%)

Romney is now officially the frontrunner after a huge victory last night and a distinct (though not overwhelming) improvement over his second-place 2008 showing of 32%. He now turns to South Carolina, which will be less hospitable territory for him (as evidenced by his mere fourth place showing (at 15%) last time). Nevertheless, if anyone was in doubt, Romney is now a big force in this campaign going forward.
Texas Rep. Ron Paul (23%)
This was a fantastic showing for a man who has for so long stood outside the Party’s mainstream. Yesterday, Paul secured a place in history amongst a small group of people who have finished in the top two in New Hampshire. Nevertheless, Paul’s passionately dovish and libertarian message limits him, and while the first two contests allowed him to capture over one fifth of the vote each time, such outcomes will become increasingly rare. The next contest, in South Carolina, will be a more traditionally conservative primary election and will serve as an indicator of whether he sustains his numbers or begins to fade.

Former Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman (17%)

For a candidate who has been, up until now, stuck in low single digits nationally and in most states, Huntsman’s finish in the top three was a breakthrough. The question now is whether Romney stumbles in the upcoming contests and allows Huntsman to emerge as an alternative mainline conservative candidate. South Carolina and Florida could provide an answer.

Former Georgia Rep. Newt Gingrich (9%)

Perhaps the biggest news from yesterday—other than the basic fact of Romney’s easy victory—was that the Party’s most conservative wing remains deeply fractured. Both Gingrich and Santorum went back and forth throughout the evening exchanging very tiny leads. This left them both with partial claim to the conservative mantle, and while their struggle yesterday was relatively inconsequential, an equal split in South Carolina would destroy both of their campaigns. One is hard pressed to envision a scenario in which Gingrich and Santorum tie in South Carolina without letting Romney win in the process. Either Santorum or Gingrich must emerge and defeat both the other and Romney in South Carolina. Otherwise, Romney’s frontrunner status may become irreversible.

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum (9%)

Santorum got a small bounce from his strong Iowa showing last week, and it drifted him up from very low single-digit poll numbers. However, he has since become stuck with Gingrich in a very muddled contest for conservative votes. As discussed above, one must knock the other out sooner than later or both will fail.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry (1%)

After his poor showing in Iowa last week, Perry initially seemed inclined to drop out. Why he did not is inexplicable. His campaign is now crippled, which forced him to skip New Hampshire entirely. He plans a last stand in South Carolina, but there too his numbers are lethargic. Other than Paul, Perry does remain the only major Protestant candidate, which could help him among heavily Protestant Republican primary voters. Likewise, he is also the only candidate who is both a hard-line conservative and a Washington outsider, a combination that seems to be at the center of his campaign messaging. Nevertheless, while all this might be useful to another campaign, Perry’s tactless effort seems doomed not to capitalize on it.

Former Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer (0%)

Roemer’s largely-ignored campaign spent significant time in New Hampshire and totally failed. His emphasis on campaign funding reform could have gained popularity had it gotten notice, but he never was more than a blip in the election narrative. He said yesterday that his campaign continues, but even if he switches over to seek the Americans Elect nomination, he may not be sufficiently organized for that contest either.

Political consultant Fred Karger (0%)

Karger too focused on New Hampshire to no effect. While otherwise forgettable, his campaign does carry one lesson: Karger’s quest to become the first major homosexual presidential candidate needed to have a much broader theme. If LGBT candidates are to succeed within the Republican Party, they must run as regular candidates will full platforms.

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