by Ed Farnan –
The dust had not settled in Iowa before the GOP Presidential candidates rode off to New Hampshire to continue their battle.
Fresh off his “win” in Iowa, Mitt Romney returns to the state where he has considerable infrastructure and built in support. Even their open primary style of voting tilts in his favor, so it is a foregone conclusion Romney will take the New Hampshire primary by double digit percentages.
But the real drama being played out on the debate stage in New Hampshire last night and this morning, is the battle for who will steal the hearts and minds of the unRomney electorate.
Polls have shown that there is great volatility in the GOP conservative base and that this electorate is looking for an alternative for the establishments choice of Mitt Romney. So far the Romney ceiling of support has been about 25% in national polls, leaving 75% of the GOP electorate still undecided.
Last nights battle saw candidates attacking each other. Especially vitriolic and animated were the exchanges between Rick Santorum and Ron Paul, taking up an inordinate amount of time on the debate stage. Santorum knows, if he is to have credibility in the race, he must at least be able to take 2nd place from the solidly ensconced Ron Paul. Santorum for his part attacked Ron Paul for his seeming isolationist foreign policies, that many conservatives already are aware of.
Ron Paul accused Santorum of not really being a conservative and was an out of control spender while he was in the Senate. Paul brought up specifics in Santorums record while he served in office. Santorum for his part had ready answers for Pauls accusations. But those answers may not have resonated with the audience watching the debate. Polls indicate Santorum has lost momentum since his Iowa campaign almost grabbed the top spot. But he has been on the receiving end of negative attacks and as we have seen with other front runners, they work.
Newt Gingrich for his part has come out swinging, he has taken the gloves off and is firing back at Romney. He has accused Romney of hiding behind pious baloney while his super PAC does all of his dirty work. Gingrich is the intellectual on the stage and his real element is on the debate floor, there seems to be an upsurge in his popularity according to recent polls.
John Huntsman skipped Iowa to focus his efforts here in New Hampshire and the polls show he is in a dead heat with Santorum for 4th place. But many Republicans have a distrust of him since he worked for the Obama administration, so his chances are between slim and none of achieving the nomination. After he broke out with a short speech in Mandarin on the debate stage last night, he has been getting the nick name of: Mandarin Manchurian candidate, unfair but it is sticking.
Although Rick Perry had one of his best debate performances last night being articulate and forceful in his national defense views and smaller government vision, the New Hampshire polls don’t reflect that in his popularity and he is in last place.
But clearly, this mornings debate showed that Mitt Romney was the target, as all guns were trained on him. But after the smoke cleared it seemed he was able to deflect most of the fire directed his way and come away unscathed.
As it stands, the battle in New Hampshire will be for 2nd place and right now according to polls, Ron Paul has that position locked up. Paul is also the beneficiary of New Hampshire’s open primary rules, he gets many independents and cross over votes, his message of strictly adhering to the constitution has resonated with many Americans. If it wasn’t for his isolationist foreign policy views he would probably be doing much better.
A snapshot of what the New Hampshire polls show:
The New Hampshire primary will set the stage for the all important races of South Carolina, Florida and Nevada. These states are a whole new ballgame, they are conservative leaning and all bets are off on just who the front runners will be after they vote. Stay tuned!