Iowa was make or break for Michelle Bachmann and Rick Santorum. Bachmann got off the train and Santorum stayed on. New Hampshire was make or break for Jon Huntsman and now it looks like his ride is over too. Gingrich’s train has garnered much attention, but has arrived behind at least three others arriving at the Iowa and New Hampshire stations. The independent express known as Ron Paul will keep going, but his final whistle stop will be down the line. Rick Perry jumped off, but decided to catch the morning training to South Carolina, where the January 21 primary becomes make or break time for him…at least for the 12 hours after the decision comes in.
It takes a massive operation in multiple states to keep the candidate train running on time. In this GOP nomination battle to take on President Obama, there has only been one candidate who seems to be able to handle the delays, the challenges and the expense of keeping his or her train on the track. While Mitt Romney may not soon be compared to the strongest challenger in presidential campaign history (a recent CBS poll showed that 58% of Republicans want more presidential choices), to date he is the strongest GOP candidate.
Don’t mistake the above as a coronation for the train carrying Mitt Romney to be the GOP nominee or in the White House come next January. The campaign is still far too early and there are still 48 stations to visit before the train finally arrives in Tampa. The matchup for any Republican against this incumbent, even in a down economy, is going to be quite challenging. Only once a Republican candidate becomes clear will we be able to size up what a November two-way (maybe three-way) contest looks like.
Here are the New Hampshire GOP Primary results with 95.3% counted:
- Rick Perry – The Station Master is calling. Fifth in Iowa, Sixth in New Hampshire with less than 1% of the vote, any hopes for a comeback rest in the Palmetto State where the latest polls show him in fifth place.
- Rick Santorum – A strong Iowa showing for this conservative candidate led to a better showing in New Hampshire than foreseen just a few weeks ago. If Santorum is to stay in the race long enough to become the final serious challenger to Romney, money and organization need to be found on his train ride from Concord to Columbia.
- Newt Gingrich – Back-to-back fourth place finishes for the former Speaker of the House. The SuperPAC trying to help Gingrich (which is neither controlled by nor coordinated with the Gingrich campaign) may be his best hope in finding a path to victory. A significant international event would likely benefit him more than the other GOP contenders.
- Jon Huntsman – Dismissed Iowa and welcomed the field at the New Hampshire station. Strong resume, but can a third place finish in one contest greatly improve his polling numbers above their current position (below 3% support in the next two states of South Carolina and Florida)? The Huntsman train needs to find passengers quickly to keep going.
- Ron Paul – He is pulling the strongest support from independents and young voters – two critical voting blocks to win the White House. Paul will clearly continue on for several more contests, but will New Hampshire prove to be his best stop?
- Mitt Romney – Kept the train on the tracks and job one for him is to leave South Carolina with them still on the tracks. South Carolina is a strongly conservative state and the more conservative candidates remaining on the ballot here, benefits Romney from a moderate versus conservative candidate comparison. Romney not only won New Hampshire with nearly 40% of the vote, he also beat the expectations game.
- Barack Obama – It appears that the candidate on the ballot yesterday with the largest field staff in New Hampshire was not a Republican, but the current occupant of the White House. Both U.S. House seats in New Hampshire supported Obama over McCain while electing Republicans in 2010.