MANCHESTER NH - To the surprise of, well, no one, Mitt Romney has won the New Hampshire primary by a substantial margin. As of this writing, he's garnered 39 percent of the vote, with just over 80 percent of precincts reporting. It's not exactly the clobbering knockout blow Team Romney would have preferred, but it's still a powerful showing. Romney's people say they're "thrilled" that Ron Paul came in second, because Paul has announced he won't contest delegate-rich Florida at the end of the month. Before we discuss the other candidates, let's have a look at the victory speech the Massachusetts former governor delivered to an overflow crowd here at Southern New Hampshire University shortly after 8pm Eastern:
A few things struck me about those remarks. (1) It sounded an awful lot like an acceptance speech rather than an isolated primary victory address. Romney only reveled in his triumph for a few moments, before quickly pivoting to attack the president. His laundry list of sharp contrasts regarding the future of this country was strong, and the candidate seemed to really warm to his task during that passage. (2) That being said, I can't help but wonder if ardent supporters of other candidates may have perceived a certain presumptuousness in the speech. That's the risk of acting like you're the guy prematurely. (3) Nevertheless, it was one of Romney's best oratory efforts of the cycle -- certainly light years ahead of his perfunctory stump speech post-Iowa. One memorable moment came when the victor tied several unnamed GOP opponents (Gingrich, Perry, and Huntsman) to Obama's divisive class warfare strategy, and rebuked it:
The President has run out of ideas. Now, he's running out of excuses. And tonight, we are asking the good people of South Carolina to join the citizens of New Hampshire and make 2012 the year he runs out of time. President Obama wants to put free enterprise on trial. In the last few days, we have seen some desperate Republicans join forces with him. This is such a mistake for our Party and for our nation. This country already has a leader who divides us with the bitter politics of envy. We must offer an alternative vision. I stand ready to lead us down a different path, where we are lifted up by our desire to succeed, not dragged down by a resentment of success. In these difficult times, we cannot abandon the core values that define us as unique -- We are One Nation, Under God. Make no mistake, in this campaign, I will offer the American ideals of economic freedom a clear and unapologetic defense.
Romney also delineated several major points of departure between his vision for America and the incumbent's:
This election is a choice between two very different destinies. President Obama wants to "fundamentally transform" America. We want to restore America to the founding principles that made this country great. He wants to turn America into a European-style entitlement society. We want to ensure that we remain a free and prosperous land of opportunity. This President takes his inspiration from the capitals of Europe; we look to the cities and small towns of America. This President puts his faith in government. We put our faith in the American people.
He is making the federal government bigger, burdensome, and bloated. I will make it simpler, smaller, and smarter. He raised the national debt. I will cut, cap, and balance the budget. He enacted job-killing regulations; I'll eliminate them. He lost our AAA credit rating; I'll restore it. He passed Obamacare; I'll repeal it. When it comes to the economy, my highest priority as President will be worrying about your job, not saving my own.
Romney now heads into South Carolina with a full head of steam. The state's stalwart conservative hero, Senator Jim DeMint, says he expects the frontrunner to win the Palmetto Primary. Whoa. If he does, that could be all she wrote for the remaining candidates, an assessment shared by Newt Gingrich. To wit, a pro-Romney SuperPAC has begun pouring millions into Florida, the fourth state on the docket -- and a very expensive place to run, due to its multiple major media markets. Romney leads there by double digits, and is also expected to win the Nevada caucuses shortly thereafter. Do any of the other candidates have the resources, or even the basic organization, to compete with the Romney machine after it's rattled off five straight wins? Take a look at this chart, and draw your own conclusion.
As for the rest of the field, Ron Paul exceeded expectations and won second place so handily that most networks called him the runner-up the instant the polls closed. Paul won the lion's share of younger voters, a group that has become more leery of President Obama, but is by no means guaranteed to shift over into the Republican column this fall. That's a dynamic worth watching. Paul, incidentally, was one of two Romney rivals to explicitly reject the Left-wing Bain attack scheme. Rick Santorum was the other. Speaking of the former Senator, he's locked in a battle with Newt Gingrich for fourth place at this hour. For what it's worth, Karl Rove crunched the numbers on Fox and predicted he would eventually beat Newt out. We'll see. Gingrich marches into South Carolina with an immense chip on his shoulder, a lot of prominent conservatives furious with him, and allies with a ton of cash to drop on Mitt Romney. Jon Huntsman's curious campaign strategy from day one was to run to Mitt Romney's left (despite his conservative record of governance) and to plant his flag in New Hampshire. Despite his bizarre, upbeat victory-ish speech tonight, his third place finish is a crushing blow. He put all of his eggs in this basket, yet couldn't crack the state's top two. And that much-discussed Huntsman surge over the last few days? Turns out a lot of those folks were Democrats. Hunstman won a large plurality of voters who said they are satisfied with President Obama's job performance. Huntsman pledged to push ahead to South Carolina, but I haven't the foggiest idea why he'd do so. He attracted less than 1/5 of the vote in his 'sweet spot' state. His numbers are flat-out terrible in South Carolina. He has no path to victory, and yet... Finally, it's almost not even worth mentioning, but Rick Perry is floating around one percent of the vote in New Hampshire. It's amazing that he's been reduced to a footnote. Here's Hannity laying into him for jumping on the bash Bain bandwagon.
Up next: South Carolina, on January 21st. Will the 'Not Romneys' will continue to slice up the the conservative vote, allowing their nemesis to win again with a relatively small piece of the Palmetto pie? Here are the latest numbers.
Parting Thoughts: Somewhat counter-intuitively, independents and Democrats actually didn't help Romney win tonight. Among self-identified Republicans, Romney won 49 percent of the vote, followed by Ron Paul and Rick Santorum at 16 and 13 percent, respectively. He also cleaned up among Granite Staters who identify with the Tea Party movement, as well as with the 35 percent of New Hampshire primary voters whose top criterion was picking someone would can beat President Obama. Fox has all of the fascinating exit poll data available HERE.