The night belonged to John McCain. Because his victory was more expected at this point than Hillary’s, it is easy to forget just how dramatic a come-back this represents. McCain was on the verge of withdrawing from the race over the summer, and Romney had a consistent double-digit lead in the state starting in late spring all the way until mid-December when McCain catapulted into a tie with Romney. One of the big factors in McCain’s surge is the near-unanimous newspaper endorsements many of which also went on to bash Romney. The Union Leader by itself accounts for some of that margin between McCain and Romney.
To be fair to the former Massachusetts governor, it is remarkable that he finished with 32%, which is roughly the score he got throughout the fall when he was posting big leads. So what changed? In that time, Giuliani and McCain were battling for second, both coming in around 18% to 20%. Once Giuliani started his New Hampshire free-fall and then decided to stop advertisement in the state, most of his backers migrated to McCain’s candidacy.
McCain is now in a strong position going forward. He is the story going out of New Hampshire for the GOP, and his victory makes him the chief alternative for those Republicans who want to stop Mike Huckabee. And that means that McCain’s position could not be more different than it was in 2000. That year, he was the insurgent that had to be stopped and George Bush was the establishment figure with one powerful argument: McCain won New Hampshire on the strenght of independents only. But this time, McCain looks much strong. Not only is he part of the GOP establishment, but he carried the vote of registered Republicans, depriving Romney of a powerful rejoinder going forward.
Now, the race is on to Michigan and South Carolina which vote on the 15th and the 19th respectively. Huckabee is likely going to concentrate on South Carolina though he has a chance to perform well in Michigan as well; as for Romney and McCain they are flying to Michigan and will probably spend a lot of this week’s in that state. I explained two days ago why Romney could survive a New Hampshire loss contrary to what it looked like a few days ago only. But there is no question that he is now growing increasingly marginalized, and the rest of the field knows that they can crush him even further on Tuesday.
Both candidates have an advantage going in. For McCain, they are obvious: (1) He won the NH primary and will get a ton of buzz in Michigan, and (2) the Michigan primary is even more open than in New Hampshire, as anyone can vote in either primary there. And to make matters worse for Romney, there is no Democratic race in Michigan since Clinton is the only candidate on the ballot. So all independents who want to vote next Tuesday will choose the GOP race — now imagine the size of McCain’s victory if that had happened yesterday.
But Romney is certainly not out. (1) He has plenty of money to go forward, since he does not seem to be hesitating to self-fund his campaign as long as he is a viable candidate. (2) Michigan has always been a strong state for him, since his father was governor there and Romney has much higher name-recognition than in other states. And (3) McCain’s New Hampshire reputation is unlike anything McCain can count on anywhere else. He did win in Michigan in 2000 as well which points to a base of support, but McCain fueled his come-back in New Hampshire by spending near 100% of his time in the state since the summer. Romney has already started organizing in Michigan and running ads, so let’s see how that develops.
Meanwhile, Huckabee is more than ever in contention. He got a very weak 11 percent, which was roughly what he was getting prior to Iowa and is on the lower-end of his results in polls. But he managed to beat Rudy Giuliani, which was the only thing he was hoping for last night. This means he is part of the storyline going forward and portrayed as one of the winners given that third-place was hotly contested. He has a chance to score a strong result in Michigan with his economically populist message, but the question is whether he will go for the win. Odds are that he knows South Carolina to be more important to his chances and that he will concentrate his efforts there to build a firewall that the Michigan winner will not be able to break.
And then we get to Rudy Giuliani who came in fourth. His spin, of course, is that Florida is coming and that he will win there. But he cannot spin New Hampshire the way he talked about Iowa. After all, he was at 20% here until the beginning of November and he ran ads here, and extensively campaigned. And he should take a look at the latest Florida poll released last night:
- Huckabee comes in with 24%, followed by Romney at 20%, McCain at 18% and Giuliani at 16%.
And this is only going to get worse in the next two weeks as two more states vote for someone not named Giuliani. The late-state strategy is not looking very good for Rudy.
I was expecting Ron Paul to come a bit stronger here given that New Hampshire is a more liberterian state than Iowa is. Though Ron Paul could have spent much more than he did, sent more mailers and ran so many more ads given the millions he has raised over the past few months — that he didn’t suggests he might be looking at an independent run in the general. As for Thompson, well… He came in at barely more than 1%, and though he did not campaign here at all nor run ads, he did participate in the debates over the week-end and he is supposed to have some sort of national reputation. Even a 5% showing would have been hard to spin, but he will have a lot of defending to do to justify his staying in the race. South Carolina is coming in 10 days and that’s where Thompson was always expected to do well. But he has fallen there as well at this point.
Let’s conclude with an update on the results: With 97% of precincts in, John McCain has won 37.1% of the vote, followed by Mitt Romney’s 31.5%. Mike Huckabee came in third with a weak 11.1%, followed by an even-weaker Rudy Giuliani at 8.6%. Fortunately for Rudy, he at least came ahead of Ron Paul with 7.6% (by about 2,500 votes). Thompson sank as low as he possibly could, at 1.2%, barely ahead of Duncan Hunter by 1,600 votes.