Wednesday, January 11, 2012
Thoughts on the GOP presidential primary results in New Hampshire
I thought it would be fun to take another look at the GOP presidential race, now that the New Hampshire primary is in the books.
Let's start with a look at the finish, with a few comments on the top finishers:
1. Mitt Romney (96,814 votes, 39.3%, 7 delegates) - This was a good night for Romney. New England candidates tend to have about a 15% hometown edge in New Hampshire, so this would've been a win for him even without that. He also gave by far the sharpest and most focused of the post-primary speeches. Given the relatively small number of delegates at stake in New Hampshire, last nights results matter most in terms of a jumping-off point for the rest of the campaign. Those nationally televised victory and concession speeches matter, and Romney won both the election and the post-election speech. A failure in New Hampshire would have been a major setback. Instead, he is heading straight down the happy path of his campaign's plan for victory. If he follows this up with decisive wins in South Carolina and Florida, there will be a lot of pressure on the other candidates to fold their tents, so as not to damage the party's chances in November.
2. Ron Paul (56,259 votes, 22.8%, 3 delegates) - Likely to be the high-water mark for Ron Paul 2012. Much of his support came from independents or disaffected Democrats, groups which may not be able to show up in the same numbers in later states with more restrictive primary voting rules. One interesting item fairly widely reported afterwards is that a lot of folks think Ron Paul won't bolt the party and run independently because of the political damage it would do to his son, Sen. Rand Paul. I think that's probably right. So here's a thought: if Ron Paul manages to run up a sizable delegate count for the convention, perhaps we'll see Rand Paul in the VP slot.
3. Jon Huntsman (41,537 votes, 16.9%, 2 delegates) - Thanks to his laser-sharp focus on New Hampshire and a burst of late momentum, Huntsman managed to bring enough Democrats into the New Hampshire primary to only get trounced by Romney by more than twenty percent. Where now, Jon Huntsman? South Carolina? Seems unlikely. Florida? Huntsman's message might play well there, but I doubt he has the resources to get that message out in a state that size. Worse yet, his post-election speech was the worst speech I've ever seen him give.
About the only role Huntsman seems likely to play going forward is to siphon votes from Romney on the left. That might benefit an Anybody-But-Romney candidate on the right, but it seems to me more likely to continue to split the Anybody-But-Romney vote and actually benefit Romney more than his opposition. I'm not sure what 2013 holds for Jon Huntsman, but "President Huntsman" ain't it.
4. Newt Gingrich (23,230 votes, 9.4%, 0 delegates) - Gingrich continues to slip in the polls and the results. He really needed a strong result in New Hampshire plus a strong post-election speech to make a go of it in South Carolina. He had neither. We all look forward to the promised savage chaos of your well-financed South Carolina campaign farewell, Newt, but say farewell to the presidency.
5. Rick Santorum (23,085 votes, 9.4%, 0 delegates) - Failed to capitalize on his Iowa success at the polls, and also failed to deliver a post-campaign speech that was as good as his post-caucus speech in Iowa. The fact that Santorum apparently would have won Iowa had it not been for a 20-vote clerical error in favor of Romney doesn't matter in delegate counts. In the mediasphere it has turned into "Mitt Romney, who won in both Iowa and New Hampshire." Santorum will need to knock it out of the park in South Carolina if he wants to become the an Anybody-But-Romney candidate with a genuine chance to win.
6. Rick Perry (1,745 votes, 0.7%, 0 delegates) - Skipped New Hampshire -- other than the weekend debates -- in favor of campaigning in South Carolina to re-establish himself as the Anybody-But-Romney candidate. During the debates Perry stated that he wanted to re-invade Iraq, so he might have done better to skip the debates, too. Perry will need to finish a strong second to Romney in South Carolina, a result that seems unlikely.
7. Buddy Roemer (924 votes, 0.4%, 0 delegates) - Reports of life in Buddy Roemer's candidacy may have been premature. I used to think that running a single-issue presidential candidacy in New Hampshire was a good way to get your issue into the national debate, especially for candidates like Roemer who had a reasonable resume. Watching him get utterly shut out of the free media bonanza of all of those GOP debates over the last year has made me reconsider whether that is true. Perhaps it's more of a comment on Roemer's effectiveness as a candidate than the general effectiveness of that strategy.
Below the Buddy Line lay the dropouts, the obscure, and the other doomed candidacies:
8. Total Write-ins (739 votes, 0.3%, 0 delegates)
9. Michele Bachmann (348 votes, 0.1%, 0 delegates)
10. Fred Karger (338 votes, 0.1%, 0 delegates)
11. Kevin Rubash (248 votes, 0.1%, 0 delegates)
12. Gary Johnson (179 votes, 0.1%, 0 delegates)
13. Herman Cain (155 votes, 0.1%, 0 delegates)
14. Jeff Lawman (125 votes, 0.1%, 0 delegates)
15. Christopher Hill (105 votes, 0.0%, 0 delegates)
16. Benjamin Linn (84 votes, 0.0%, 0 delegates)
17. Michael Meehan (49 votes, 0.0%, 0 delegates)
18. Joe Story (41 votes, 0.0%, 0 delegates)
19. Keith Drummond (36 votes, 0.0%, 0 delegates)
20. Bear Betzler (29 votes, 0.0%, 0 delegates)
21. Joe Robinson (26 votes, 0.0%, 0 delegates)
22. Stewart Greenleaf (23 votes, 0.0%, 0 delegates)
23. Mark Callahan (20 votes, 0.0%, 0 delegates)
24. Andy Martin (19 votes, 0.0%, 0 delegates)
25. Linden Swift (18 votes, 0.0%, 0 delegates)
26. Vern Wuensche (15 votes, 0.0%, 0 delegates)
27. Timothy Brewer (15 votes, 0.0%, 0 delegates)
28. John Davis (14 votes, 0.0%, 0 delegates)
29. Randy Crow (12 votes, 0.0%, 0 delegates)
30. James Vestermark (3 votes, 0.0%, 0 delegates)
31. Hugh Cort (3 votes, 0.0%, 0 delegates)
One other note on the results. There was some discussion among the punditocracy about whether the turnout totals reflected on general Republican enthusiasm for this year's election. A total of 246,238 votes were cast in the GOP primary last night, a slight uptick from the ~240,000 votes cast in 2008, though the number of true Republicans may have been down some from 2008. The biggest factors in favor of larger turnout this year were the essentially uncontested Democratic primary combined with the added appeal to moderates and Democrats of Ron Paul and Jon Huntsman. A factor in favor of a smaller turnout among Republicans was the expectation that Romney would win this primary handily. All in all, I'd call it a push. The turnout numbers will be something to keep an eye on as the race goes on, but I'd be pretty cautious about drawing many concrete conclusions from them. They're more likely to be something cited by the spinmeisters on either side without true merit.
So, what have we learned towards answering the four questions I laid out after the Iowa caucuses?
1) Can Rick Santorum capitalize on his Iowa finish to accumulate the money, resources, and endorsements that will let him compete with Romney in states where Romney has a long-established presence?
--The answer in New Hampshire was no. If Santorum can't rebound with a strong showing in South Carolina the influx of donations that followed his Iowa finish will dry up quickly.
2) How long does Newt Gingrich stay in the race? If he does go full-scale negative on Romney, does it stick?
--Gingrich's SuperPAC got a $5 million donation from billionaire casino owner Sheldon Adelson last week. That's giving him the resources to wage a fierce negative advertising campaign in South Carolina based on a film about Romney's record of job destruction at Bain Capital. That seems unlikely to restore Gingrich's chances of winning, but it may prove instructive as a preview of the general campaign in terms of how well those charges stick to Romney.
3) If Santorum fades, can Perry find a second wind from the Anybody-But-Romney vote? It seems improbable, but it's not out of the question.
--Perry gets an "Incomplete" grade this week, since he skipped New Hampshire. Santorum faded this week, but the current FiveThirtyEight.com projection based on the polls in South Carolina has Perry getting just 6.6% of the vote there. "Incomplete" seems likely to turn to "No" next week.
4) Will Ron Paul campaign all the way through to the convention? His enthusiastic support could be a significant asset for the eventual GOP nominee. If he bolts the party again, it could spell disaster in the general election.
--The Ron Paul campaign looks likely to run the full course, especially given his strong New Hampshire result and strong nationwide network. If so, he seems likely to prove to be a significant factor at the GOP convention, especially with the vice-presidential nomination. As I mentioned previously in this post, despite Ron Paul's history I now view him as unlikely to bolt the GOP to run a third-party campaign, based on both his own denials and the damage that would do to the political career of his son, Senator Rand Paul.