John Heaton (jheaton) wrote,
John Heaton
jheaton

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New Hampshire primary thoughts

Here's the headline on today's Wisconsin State Journal:

ROMNEY ROLLS AGAIN

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney won the New Hampshire primary Tuesday night, adding to a first-place finish in last week's Iowa caucuses and establishing himself as the man to beat for the Republican presidential nomination.

Really, Wisconsin State Journal? Because that's not at all how I'd describe it.

1) "Rolls" implies that Romney did something other than barely eke out a win in Iowa. If you can even call it that; the eight-vote difference between Romney and Santorum is definitely within the margin of error, so at best it was a statistical tie, and it's just as likely that he lost to Santorum. Reports that Romney was credited with ten times as many votes than he actually received in at least one caucus site doesn't really change matters; there's no appreciable difference, statistically speaking, between an eight-vote margin in Romney's favor and a twelve-vote margin in Santorum's.

2) No one ever believed Romney wasn't going to do well in New Hampshire. He's the former governor of Massachusetts, and politicians from Massachusetts always do well in New Hampshire. That doesn't mean other candidates can't benefit from not winning, of course; witness Bill Clinton, who finished behind Senator Paul Tsongas of Massachusetts yet gained significant momentum by overcoming a 20-point drop in the polls a week or so earlier. But another factor contributing to Clinton's momentum was Clinton constantly pointing out that a Massachusetts politician winning in New Hampshire was meaningless, and that the really important thing was who came in second. A more cynical man than I might wonder if maybe his own campaign leaked the Gennifer Flowers and draft dodging scandals, just so he could create a comeback narrative for himself.

Unfortunately, no one is in a position to make that sort of claim this time around. The second place finisher was Ron Paul, which, given the kind of flinty New England leave-me-alone-style conservatism that prevails in New Hampshire, is about as surprising as Romney finishing first. Third place went to Huntsman, whose potential momentum will run up against and be stopped dead by the large number of conservative evangelicals who will vote in the South Carolina primary, just as the lack of same in New Hampshire blunted Santorum's potential momentum coming out of Iowa. (Though what evangelical population there is in New Hampshire favored Romney.)

Nevertheless, the South Carolina primary should be interesting. As noted, there are a lot of potential Santorum voters down there, but the state GOP has proved itself very good at throwing its weight behind the establishment candidate. Plus, it's a Saturday election, and it will be very interesting to see what kind of effect that will have on turnout. Something to look forward to—which is a weird thing to say about a Republican primary.

Tags: current events, politics
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