Having swept Iowa and New Hampshire, Mitt Romney has established himself as the clear GOP frontrunner and the man most likely to win the party's presidential nomination. In the wake of his (expected) resounding victory in last night, his opponents -- on both the Left and Right -- are spinning furiously to diminish the breadth and significance of his win. Not all of the points they raise are off base, but several prominent ones deserve closer scrutiny:
(1) Claim: The low voter turnout in New Hampshire's Republican primary prove that Romney is a weak frontrunner, and that Republican voters aren't enthusiastic. Data: According to CNN, voters turned out in record numbers yesterday, setting a new GOP primary turnout record in the Granite State by eclipsing 2008's tally by several thousand votes.
(2) Claim: New Hampshire's open primary rules allowed moderate independents and Democrats to cross over and inflate Romney's numbers. Data: The open primary actually hurt Romney. If it had been a closed (Republicans only) affair, he would have won nearly half of all votes, with Ron Paul a very distant second at 16 percent.
(3) Claim: Romney can't attract conservatives. Data: Romney won large pluralities of self-identified "conservative" and "very conservative" voters. He also won 40 percent of New Hampshire voters who said they support the Tea Party movement, nearly double the total of his closest competitor.
(4) Claim: Romney might not significantly improve upon his 2008 popular vote total in New Hampshire. Data: With more than 95 percent of precincts reporting, he'd beaten his previous mark by nearly 20,000 votes -- easily topping John McCain's ~88,000 victory tally four years ago.
(5) Claim: Romney still hasn't closed the deal on electability. Data: Among those voters who said choosing someone who can beat Barack Obama in the fall was their top criterion (a plurality view, at 35 percent), more than 6 in 10 picked Romney.
None of this is to say that the nomination fight is over, or that Mitt Romney should or will be the Republican nominee. South Carolina will play a very big role in making those determinations. This information does, however, demonstrate that the former Massachusetts governor's performance in New Hampshire cannot be as easily shrugged off as many of his detractors would have you believe. Parting thought: This post will inevitably trigger a deluge of "Guy is just a Romney shill!" comments and emails. That's fine, but I figured I'd still direct readers to posts like this and this and this and this and this and this, if only to humbly suggest that the label doesn't quite fit.
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