New Hampshire: A Postmortem

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on January 11, 2012

Obviously, it was a big night for Mitt Romney, who goes into South Carolina with a full head of steam. Getting nearly 40% of the vote in a crowded field is a big achievement, and helps Romney claim that he surpassed expectations. His margin over Ron Paul was an impressive 16 percentage points, and while Paul may claim that he is “nipping” at Romney’s heels, the reality is otherwise. Amusingly enough, Paul is now demanding that other candidates drop out so that he can take Romney on mano a mano. If that turns out to happen, any doubts I may have about supporting Romney will dissipate completely.

My preferred candidate, Jon Huntsman, came in a respectable third, but I don’t know if that is going to be enough to make him a viable alternative to Romney. Huntsman has pledged to go through South Carolina and Florida, so something had better happen soon in order to give his campaign a reason for going on. New Hampshire has put off the suspension of the campaign, and Huntsman can indeed claim that he has a “ticket to ride,” but that ticket won’t be good for very long unless Huntsman experiences more successes in relatively short order.

Rick Santorum was a big loser. All of his momentum from Iowa is gone, and I don’t see his campaign lasting much longer. He needs a miracle in South Carolina, and I am pretty sure that he is not going to get one.

Exit polling from New Hampshire reveals that voters aren’t focused on ideology. Rather, they are focused on electability:

Mitt Romney won the New Hampshire primary Tuesday night with a broad-based coalition of both conservative and moderate voters overwhelmingly motivated by their worries about America’s economic future and wanting above all to beat President Barack Obama in November.

According to exit poll data, more than a third of voters on Tuesday said the quality that mattered most in deciding their vote was the candidate’s ability to defeat Obama. Romney won an overwhelming 62 percent of those voters.

Obviously, different primaries and caucuses will reveal different polling data, and I am sure that the influx of independents and Democrats influenced this sample, but it is worth noting that 49% of self-described Republicans gave their votes to Romney. This serves to refute the notion that the Republican party is ideologically hidebound, and not practical and pragmatic in its effort to choose a presidential nominee. Republicans are focused on beating President Obama this fall. Ideological battles may have to wait to be resolved afterwards.

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