The GOP New Hampshire Primary results are in and there really were not any big surprises. Mitt Romney won a resounding victory with 39% of the vote, followed by Ron Paul with 23% and Jon Huntsman with 17%. Gingrich and Santorum lagged well behind with less than 10% of the vote and Rick Perry barely received 1%.
New Hampshire has always been favorable territory to Romney. He was the Governor of MA. He owns a house in the state. He visited the state more times than any other candidate except Jon Huntsman. Many Republican voters in the state are more inclined to fiscal issues then social. New Hampshire also shares the regional values of the Northeast if not its leftist partisan bent. Many candidates came to New Hampshire after IA just to earn enough votes to claim they could credibly move forward to South Carolina and Florida. Certainly the second place finish of Ron Paul does that as does the third place finish of Jon Huntsman. Gingrich and Santorum knew the state was not favorable to them but competed and did well enough to move on. Rick Perry essentially gave up on the state a couple of months ago deciding to focus solely on Iowa and South Carolina.
Though the results were not surprising and we know most candidates (if not all) will move onto South Carolina we can glean several things from the results. First-off using exit polls (Fox New’s anyways) we can see the electorate was compromised of 49% self-identified Republicans and 47% Independents/something else. Romney emphatically carried the GOP vote with 49% and showcased his appeal with independents by getting 30%. Paul bested him among this group with 31%. What has to make the Romney camp happy is they carried a plurality of the moderate (40%), somewhat conservative (48%) and very conservative (33%) vote. Combined with carrying a plurality of Republicans Romney’s camp can now make the case they are acceptable to conservatives. Even better Romney won a plurality (33%) of the somewhat liberal vote.
Each candidate’s base could be seen in the results. Romney, as in Iowa, ran best with urban, upscale and college/graduate educated voters. By contrast, Paul, Santorum, Huntsman and Gingrich had mixed results among all educated groups and population centers. Paul carried the youngest voters but Romney carried voters 40 and above (those most likely to vote). As in Iowa Romney carried a plurality of those who support the Tea Party movement and actually won among evangelical voters. Lastly, as in Iowa, the majority of voters who backed Romney did so because they believe he can defeat Barack Obama. He struggled on having “strong moral character” or being a “true conservative.”
These results all point to several irrefutable facts. First, the New Hampshire primary electorate is more moderate than the national GOP electorate. Second, it was extremely friendly territory to moderate candidates like Romney and Huntsman. Third, Romney for the first time won a plurality of the conservative and GOP vote. Fourth, Ron Paul continues to show his appeal with a strong second place finish (did well among independents). Lastly, Gingrich, Santorum, and especially Perry have work to do in South Carolina to stop the juggernaut that is the Romney campaign.
Still, South Carolina is not New Hampshire. Romney is polling slightly ahead in the state but his lead is tenuous and in some surveys within the margin of error. Perry and Gingrich have the best campaign infrastructures in the state while Santorum and Paul are not far behind. Huntsman staked his campaign on New Hampshire and while he did well enough to move on he is poorly positioned to do well in South Carolina or beyond.
If Romney runs the table with wins in IA, NH and then South Carolina the race will be essentially over. But if another candidate can make a stand in South Carolina even as the conservative vote is divided among multiple non-Romney candidates then the nomination contest has a chance to go to Super Tuesday or beyond.