Thursday, January 12, 2012

Romney Wins New Hampshire, Now What?

South Carolina County Map

So Mitt won New Hampshire. Now what? 
Despite winning in nearly every group of voters (including winning across the conservatives) the fight isn't over. The race is going in Romney's favor, but is not yet a done deal. And nor should it be! The democratic and primary system was not set up so that two fairly small states could have more power than the other 48!
We're already seeing a shift in strategies. Newt "High Road" Gingrich has abandoned all pretenses of pretending to play nice with no negative strategies. He has come out both barrels blazing to attack Romney in a self-described 'Armageddon.' (Now who's the flip-flopper?)Asked about the negative ads from the Gingrich camp, Romney told Boston radio station WRKO on Tuesday that they "will not help" his rival.
"All I have got to do is keep my head down, keep talking about my message of getting America back to work, my experience in having led two businesses successfully, the Olympics successfully," Romney said.
Of course, Gingrich isn't alone in the attacks. Everybody and their brother's PAC are "on the hunt." This looks to be the fight of Romney's political life to not just survive South Carolina, but succeed in it. It is shaping up to be a bloodbath.
The absolute most current poll data released (taken yesterday) has Romney only leading Gingrich by 2 points in South Carolina (Insider Advantage). And that is from a poll taken after the NH victory. However, polls taken earlier in the week have him with as much as an 18 point lead. But again the fight for third place will be very significant. Paul and Santorum are neck and neck there, and both absolutely need to be to take third to be considered viable. And if Perry ends up in last place, there will be little reason for him to proceed to Florida. Huntsman can take last place and still go on to Florida because he had a strong enough showing in NH.
The difference between Perry and Huntsman right now comes down to having enough money to go forward, but more importantly delegates. Perry skipped New Hampshire, and Huntsman skipped Iowa. But Perry had a lousy showing in Iowa. So he's 0 for 2 right now. Huntsman is 1 for 2. Huntsman can afford another hit. But Perry really cannot. Florida and South Carolina primaries are close enough together that a candidate could financially stay in. But considering both men are polling with less than 5% in Florida, there wouldn't be much of a reason to proceed.
There will be another poll next Thursday night in South Carolina (hosted by CNN). Considering how well Huntsman performed last Saturday in the New Hampshire debate, and how that really seemed to give him a bump up in the primary, this will be key to his success.
It is also very important to realize that Ron Paul is a serious threat right now. He has the money to keep going on for several more states. And if he continues to come in second or third everywhere, collecting delegates as he goes, he alone could really draw things out. (And there is nothing he or his supporters would love more than to really draw things out.) I've looked back over the polling data before and after the debates. His numbers don't move at all. Debates don't seem to help or hurt him like they do the other candidates. He only has 11% in South Carolina, just 1-2 points behind Santorum, for a consistent 4th place. He has yet to break 10% in Florida. If it were any other candidate, I'd say it is time to start his exit strategy. But considering his coffers, and ability to outstay his welcome, I would say expect him to come out swinging harder than the rest. But he's a wily candidate. Don't expect him to go after Romney- everyone else is doing that already. He will focus his sites on Gingrich or Santorum. He's not shooting for first place. A second or third place slot will be his victory. Again, slowly picking up delegates as he rolls along.

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