Romney Wins New Hampshire; Huntsman Surprises With Top-Tier Finish
MANCHESTER, N.H. -- As results rolled in from the New Hampshire primary, it became clear that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney had secured his place as the winner that nobody loves. With 39.4 percent of the vote, Romney did better than the 8-vote squeaker that allowed him to declare victory in the Iowa caucuses. But even here, in the state next door to the one he once governed, there wasn’t a sense of enthusiasm about his victory -- just one of inevitability.
Rep. Ron Paul, Texas, appeared to have peeled some votes from Romney, bumping up his second-place finish to 22.8 percent. Although Romney's victory was clear, Paul told a roomful of boisterous supporters, "we're nibbling at his heels."
Romney used the occasion of his victory speech to pound Barack Obama with the standard Tea Party critique of the president, albeit couched in somewhat softer language. Instead of calling Obama a socialist outright, as the Tea Partiers do, Romney said that the president sought to implement a “European-style entitlement society.”
“This president takes his inspiration from the capitals of Europe,” Romney said. “We look to the cities and small towns of America.”
But, Romney said, “Our campaign is about more than replacing a president; it is about saving the soul of America.”
He did, however, take one swipe at his fellow Republicans, some of whom, he said, have, in desperation, joined forces with the president to “put free enterprise on trial.” The reference appeared intended for Newt Gingrich, in whose support the super-PAC Winning Our Futureissued a devastating video against Romney and his record at Bain Capital, as well as Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who called Romney “a vulture.”
'Goosing a Ghost'?
But the real winner of the night may just be former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, whose third-place finish with a mere 17 percent of the vote allowed him to introduce himself to the country in a nationally televised speech, at which he declared, "I think we're in the hunt!"
(At HuffPost Hill, the writers dubbed this statement evidence that Huntsman was "clearly entering the denial stage of the Kubler-Ross grief model." )
Huntsman has some company in that. From the scene of Huntsman's party at a high-ceilinged, ornately appointed restaurant on Manchester's main drag, you'd have thought he won the contest outright. The place was packed, and media crammed not only the standard videographers' platform, but a staircase as well. The party reached capacity in the sprawling pub before the candidate even arrived, and supporters waited patiently in the cold in the hope that someone would leave to let them in.
Casting himself as the reasonable alternative to the Republican Party's right wing, Huntsman drew 50 percent of those voters who told exit pollsters that they "strongly oppose" the Tea Party. (But those strongly opposed to the Tea Party comprise a mere 10 percent of New Hampshire's Republican primary voters.)
Earlier in the day, the former ambassador to China told AlterNetof his plan to broaden the base of those who vote in GOP primaries beyond the Tea Party by focusing on states with open primaries, in which any registered voter can cast a ballot, regardless of party affiliation, as they do in New Hampshire. Huntsman drew the largest number of Democratic voters of any of the candidates.
But most of those open primaries are in Southern states, The New Republic's Ed Kilgore told AlterNet via e-mail -- states in which Huntsman is unlikely to do well, on account of his cheerleading for evolution and his belief that climate change is exacerbated by human activity.
"Huntsman is 'goosing a ghost,'" Kilgore said. "He has no plausible path to the nomination within his own party, so he's imagining a constituency outside it."
In his “victory” speech, Huntsman bemoaned the fact that Americans had lost faith in their institutions and politicians, and promised to restore the people’s trust.
Paul Wins Young People and the Working Class; Draws Voters Away From Romney
A mere two weeks ago, polls showed Romney enjoying the support of some 44 percent of likely primary voters; he finished with 37 percent. If there was any surprise to be had in the first-in-the-nation primary, it was the surging support for Huntsman, who barely registers in national polls.
The demographics were telling: Paul drew the biggest plurality by far among voters 18-29 years of age, pulling 47 percent of voters in the youngest cohort, according to CNN. He also topped the pack in drawing working class people (those with an annual income of under $30,000), though only by five points above Romney (36 to 31 percent, respectively).
In his primary night speech, Paul made the case for economic libertarianism as a humane alternative to government help for people who are struggling. The problem with “the bleeding hearts,” as he called liberals, is that their solutions don’t work, he said, and went on to blame the housing bubble not on financial deregulation (which he supports), but on the the government, which he said encouraged people to buy homes they could not afford.
“What we have to convince them,” he said, “[is that] if you are a true humanitarian, you have to fight and argue the case for free markets, sound money, property rights, contract rights, no use of force, and a sensible foreign policy, so we don’t waste our resources.”
Newt Ties for Fourth With Santorum
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich was never expected win in New Hampshire, so he went on a full-throated tear against Romney, seeking retribution for a barrage of anti-Newt ads that flooded Iowa just ahead of last week's caucuses, thanks to a superPAC allied with former Massachusetts governor, effectively ending Gingrich's 15-minute status as frontrunner in the Hawkeye state.
In the end, Gingrich's attacks may have deprived Romney of a couple of points, but his cantankerousness went unappreciated by the people of New Hampshire, especially since he would brook no challenge to his statements in the town-hall meetings that characterize the campaign process here, responding to questioners defensively, and sometimes angrily, as he did when asked by a voterto explain his posture toward African Americans in light of his description of President Barack Obama as the "food stamp president."
It all earned the former speaker a mere 9.4 percent of the vote, a status no better than that of former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum’s 9.3 percent, unable to translate his virtual tie with Mitt Romney in the Iowa caucuses into a Granite State victory. Both Gingrich and Santorum have said they would intervene militarily in Iran, and the people of New Hampshire seem to be a bit war-weary.
Next stop is South Carolina, where the cultural landscape is more favorable to jingoism, race-tinged insults, and military solutions to America's problems. There Gingrich is still polling well, nearly tied with Santorum, who registers in second place in the Palmetto state. Rick Perry, who won less than 1 percent in New Hampshire, is expected to be more competitive in South Carolina, even though current polls show him only at 5 percent. Huntsman's numbers in South Carolina have him barely in the game, at around 2 percent. Romney, of course, is in the lead. While he is not beloved by South Carolinians, he is expected to win.