This time the polls got it right: Mitt Romney cruised to an easy victory last night in the New Hampshire primary beating second-place Ron Paul by 16.6%. Despite nearly a year of campaigning there intensively and a style and platform that matches the state well, Jon Huntsman came in a distant third, 22.6% behind Romney. Here are the results with 95% of the precincts reporting.
New Hampshire lost half its delegates as a punishment for holding its primary before Feb. 1, but the delegates don't really matter. What matters is that Romney scored a big win and looks more 'inevitable' than ever. The real test will come on Jan. 21, when South Carolina votes. Everyone knew Romney would do well in New Hampshire since he has a house in the state in upscale Wolfeboro, on Lake Winnipesaukee, and governed neighboring Massachusetts. He is about as close to being a favorite son as you can be without actually being one. South Carolina is a different story. It is jam packed with evangelicals who generally don't like moderate Northeasterners. A Romney victory there will seal the deal, but a loss will keep the race going for at least a little while.
Ron Paul is like a big, black horse fly. They make a lot of noise and are a bit of a nuisance, but they are not hard to shoo away. Paul can continue in the race as long as he wants to since his fans keep sending in money, but he is not going to be the nominee for either President or Vice President. Maybe he'll get a short speaking slot at the RNC, assuming he doesn't bolt the party and run as a Libertarian, as he did in 1988. But even if he doesn't bolt, the Republican establishment doesn't really want him within a country mile of the nominee saying lots of crazy things.
So far, none of the also rans have announced plans to drop out. Huntsman bet the farm on New Hampshire and got only 17% of the vote. He will do much worse in South Carolina. There is no logical reason for him to stay in the race now, except that he is unemployed and has nothing else to do. His disappointing performance indicates bad judgment on the part of President Obama, who sent him to China as ambassador because he feared Huntsman as an opponent in 2012. Turns out Huntsman wasn't so strong after all. He should have stayed in China, sat this one out, prayed for an Obama win in 2012, and run in 2016 if Obama won. If Obama wins in 2012, Huntsman could yet try again in 2016, but this weak performance certainly doesn't give him an edge.
For people who were hoping that the voters of New Hampshire would make it clear whether Gingrich or Santorum was the leading not-Romney, last night wasn't of any help. They both came in at 9%, ensuring that the field will continue to be fractured. Nevertheless, if one of them wins South Carolina convincingly, he will probably become the not-Romney. It is likely that all the other candidates except Paul are going to throw a lot of mud at Romney in the next 10 days. In particular, they are going to attack him as a rapacious corporate raider who was intent on buying up companies, firing the workers, and bleeding the company dry to line their own pockets. In a state where unemployment is about 10%, some of the mud might stick. As an unintended side effect, the ad campaign, which starts tomorrow, is going to give DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Obama's strategic advisor David Axelrod tons of valuable data on how well this kind of attack works
Rick Perry got 0.7% of the vote. Someone should tell him that to be elected President, you have to win some blue or purple states. Winning only in deep red states isn't enough. If he can't crack 1% among Republicans in a state George Bush won in 2000, how is he going to do there and in other swing states in the general election? He's all hat and no cowboy. But his presence in the South Carolina primary could draw off enough votes to prevent either Gingrich or Santorum from winning, thus guaranteeing Romney's nomination.
Then there is Romney himself. He gave a speech after the results were known. It sounded like the draft of his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention in Tampa. Not a word about his Republican opponents, just attacks on Obama. He clearly thinks the nomination is in the bag, and given how fractured his opposition is, it probably is.
Political guru Charlie Cook has taken a close look at the redistricting process that is mostly completed now. In some states the Democrats worked their will (e..g, in Illinois, they will probably gain 3 seats and Republicans will lose 4) but in other states it worked the other way (e.g., in North Carolina, the Democrats will probably lose 3-4 seats and the Republicans will gain them). Given that the Republicans control the process in 202 districts and the Democrats control it in only 47, Cook's surprising conclusion is that when you add up all the changes from all 50 states, the net change from 2010 is 0. Here is his table.