With Mitt Romney's surprisingly large defeat in the Iowa Caucus now in the rearview mirror, what lies ahead for him in New Hampshire? I think it's a must win primary for Romney. If he loses to John McCain in four days, he may choose to continue on in the race, but I think any real shot he had at winning disappears. That said, there are some big questions hovering over the New Hampshire primary.[Update: After Sunday night's debate performance by Mitt, I revise my assessment... A decently close New Hampshire loss does not kill Romney's candidacy. I think McCain and Huckabee fell somewhat flat last night and Romney breathed a bit of new life into his campaign by doing well when sparring them... plus, the conservative base really seems wary of McCain and looks almost desperate to coalesce around someone else.]
Since Mike Huckabee relied largely on Iowa's significant evangelical base for his caucus victory, I think its impact on his campaign in New Hampshire is unclear. Huckabee doesn't have a realistic shot at taking New Hampshire, so the best case scenario for him is simply a strong showing. Given how weak he's polled here over the past year, the only place he has to go is up. The $64,000 question is how much traction his Iowa win gives him. Does he steal the few evangelical votes that there are to be had in New Hampshire from Romney? Does he win over any fence-sitters?
One thing Huckabee's win almost certainly does is make the recently tightened race between McCain and Romney there even tighter. McCain's fourth place showing in Iowa doesn't really give him the momentum that a strong third-place showing would have, but with Romney losing by so much to Huckabee, I don't think it matters. Romney's loss in Iowa after investing the significant resources he did there has the potential to raise doubts that push wayward Romney supporters to McCain.
To win out New Hampshire, Romney has to find a way to prevent any hemorrhaging from his Iowa defeat. He needs to stop Huckabee from stealing any votes (since Huckabee is more likely to steal votes from Romney supporters than those backing McCain) and he needs to try and stop McCain's surge in New Hampshire by reminding voters there why they've preferred him over McCain for most of this past year. Not an easy task when it appears that the negative advertisements and mailings Romney has employed over the past few weeks seem to have actually hurt him in Iowa and, possibly, New Hampshire. Romney needs to go negative without appearing to attack, a tough balancing act that he's struggled with at times. The good news for Romney is that if he tops McCain, it's likely the death kneel of McCain's candidacy, especially if he tops him by a significant margin.
The big wild card in all of this is McCain's most natural New Hampshire constituency, independents. He can't afford to lose indies who would otherwise vote for him but who choose to vote for Barack Obama in the Democratic Primary. In that sense, McCain and Obama are each other's own worst enemy in New Hampshire. In retrospect, the Iowa caucus results haven't settled much of anything except to underscore the fact that we still have a wide-open GOP race on our hands. With that said, what are everyone's predictions?
Friday, January 04, 2008
A Few Thoughts on Romney, McCain, and Huckabee, and the Upcoming New Hampshire Primary
In the wake of yesterday's Iowa caucus results, I posted some of my thoughts on the race for the GOP nomination over at a Romney blog that I occasionally contribute to. Since few of you likely scour the political blogosphere for these sorts of posts, I thought I'd cross-post it here :