Last Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary left Mitt Romney the victor by a comfortable margin, surely reassuring for the frontrunner after he barely scraped a win over surging social conservative Rick Santorum back in Iowa.
The fate of the aforesaid Senator Santorum nicely demonstrates how mercurial the primaries can be, especially at the beginning – strong second in Iowa, Santorum floundered in fifth in liberal New Hampshire, berated for his hard-line opposition to gay marriage. The result gives Romney a commanding lead. Like Iowa, New Hampshire doesn’t yield that many delegates to victorious candidates – the Romney camp has only secured 20 from two successive wins (a candidate needs 1,144 to secure the nomination).
Instead, it’s the symbolic and psychological significance of early success that has the potential to fundamentally shape the course of the contest. Eager for content, the media heavily cover the first batch of primaries to a degree they just can’t match in later weeks when multiple primaries are happening on the same day. Republicans in South Dakota – the next stop in the would-be Presidents’ ramble around the US – are far less likely to vote for trailing candidates like Rick Perry in light of their dismal performance so far, and opposition to Romney should begin to coalesce around the most viable-looking of the remaining runners. Romney himself, on the other hand, already looks like the winner, something that will doubtlessly influence undecided Republicans in the primaries yet to come.
Relative centrist Jon Huntsman surprised with a sudden drop-out earlier this week – not surprising in the long-term, since he barely registered in Iowa, and still only came distant third having thrown everything he had at New Hampshire, but still unexpected because he’d indicated he wanted to at least hold out ‘til after South Dakota (21st Jan). As befitting his desire to see a return to sanity in a party increasingly dominated by its uncompromising right wing, Huntsman has since endorsed Romney as the best candidate to beat Obama and rejuvenate the American economy.
For centrist Republicans – assuming some continue to exist – Romney now stands as their only choice in a field dominated by uncompromising economic (Ron Paul, Newt Gingrich) and social (Rick Santorum) conservatives. Libertarian outsider Paul continued his impressive performance by coming in second, and yet again capturing the youth vote, an impressive feat for a man four years shy of 80. Gingrich narrowly beat Santorum to fourth place, while things look dire for Texas governor Rick Perry, not only in at last place but 15,000 votes behind the next placed candidate.