“We made history,” Mitt Romney told supporters last night as he celebrated his double digit win in the New Hampshire primary. It is certainly a rare feat for a non-incumbent Republican to win both Iowa and New Hampshire (he is the first to do so since 1976).
The victory cemented his frontrunner status, but what exactly does it mean for the rest of the race? Here are five facts we can take from this.
1. The inevitability is building
It was a foregone conclusion that Romney would perform well in this state, which neighbours his own, Massachusetts. He managed to scoop up 39 per cent of the vote in New Hampshire, despite never previously getting more than 25 points in opinion polls.
Exit polls suggested that support for Romney came from across the ideological spectrum, with 48 per cent of his support coming from “very conservative” voters, and 37 per cent from people identifying themselves as “moderate to liberal”. This makes it difficult to identify a clear weak spot in his support. Republicans across the board appear to believe that Romney is the candidate most capable of beating Obama.
2. There is no clear rival
While winning the first two primaries will make Romney the candidate that undecided voters in South Carolina are most likely to tilt towards, it remains a deeply conservative state, and Romney remains a moderate conservative.
However, there is no clear conservative alternative. Rick Santorum surged in Iowa, but that failed to manifest in a repeat performance in New Hampshire, where he won less than 10 per cent of the vote (see below for full breakdown of the results). He and Newt Gingrich — who invested a lot in this state — were essentially tied in fourth place: New Hampshire rejected both of them.
Although either could still perform well in South Carolina, the fact that the Republican opposition to Romney is fractured will work in his favour.
The field is in disarray: Jon Huntsman trailed in third place despite staking most of his scant resources on the state. Despite limited funds, he has vowed to fight on.
3. Obama need not worry — yet
Romney won by a large margin in New Hampshire. In his victory speech, he essentially ignored his Republican rivals and focused on criticism of Obama, all part of a plan to build a sense of inevitability around his campaign.
Yet Obama’s re-election team can take comfort from the fact that reports suggest a relatively low turnout in New Hampshire. The final figures have yet to be collated but this cements the impression given by opinion polls leading up to the primary race that none of the candidates have managed to ignite much enthusiasm among Republican voters.
4. Attack lines are sharpening
The benefit of having five other candidates still vying for the status of lead rival is clear. But on the downside, it means that attacks on Romney are being refined and sharpened.
Potentially the most damaging of these relate to his time at Bain Capital. Newt Gingrich has accused Romney of presiding over the “looting” of companies during this time, and Rick Perry said these corporate restructuring firms were “vultures”. Attack videos have labelled him as “ruthless” and intimated that he was esponsible for the loss of jobs. This did not translate into a reduced vote share for Romney in New Hampshire and it is not yet clear how it will play out over the primaries, but it is certainly possible that it will become more of an issue. If Romney makes it to the national contest, Democrats will attack him on this issue from the left.
Romney, then, did not emerge from New Hampshire unscathed, and the race will only get dirtier from here on in: it is in South Carolina that he will face his first crush of negative ads.
5. Ron Paul cannot be ignored
The libertarian Texan has long been dismissed as a crank, but this is the second poll in which he has finished with more than 20 per cent of the vote, coming second in New Hampshire and third in Iowa.
He is the only candidate who matches Romney in the breadth of his organisation across the country, and it is showing. Support for Paul amongst the young has surged because his non-interventionist stance on foreign policy taps into the strong anti-war mood.
Yet doubts remain over his ultimate electability: Romney’s team have said they would welcome running against Paul. It remains unlikely that he will emerge victorious in any major contest, but such a strong showing means that the GOP will struggle to ignore him at the convention in Tampa.
The full results
Finally, here is a break down of the results in full:
Click here to enlarge the image.
Source: New York Times