Sunday, January 08, 2012

Romney cruising toward victory? — Maybe not quite cruising

Well, the answer may be getting a little more complicated than it seemed. Romney is still at the head of the pack in New Hampshire, and it would be surprising if he doesn't wind up winning the Republican primary there. But the latest polls suggest that his lead is less dramatic than it used to be. According to the well-regarded Suffolk University poll, Romney's numbers have been slipping, from 43%, less than a week ago to 35% on Sunday, while Ron Paul's are increasing. Santorum's support is still in single digits, but support for John Huntsman (!) has inched past the 10% mark.
The latest 7 News/Suffolk University poll of likely voters in the New Hampshire Primary is great news for the Paul campaign and troublesome news for the Romney campaign. Congressman Ron Paul (R-TX), a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, surged 3 points to 20 percent of the votes in a 7 News/Suffolk University poll released Sunday. On the other hand, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney dipped 4 points to 35 percent of the votes in the same poll.

Former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman is the only other candidate to earn double-digit support in the latest New Hampshire poll. Mr. Huntsman garnered 11 percent of the votes to finish in the top-tier, but former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, who has been riding a recent wave of momentum following his 2nd place victory in the Iowa Caucuses, pulled in 8 percent of the votes. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who once was a serious contender for second place in New Hampshire, earned just 9 percent of the votes.
Furthermore, the Sunday morning GOP candidates' debate, unlike the one on Saturday night, included some sharp attacks on Romney ... though it remains to be seen whether they did much damage. Jonathan Bernstein, for one, thinks not ...
Last night on ABC, none of the Republican candidates seemed very interested in attacking Mitt Romney in person. This morning, NBC moderator David Gregory didn’t give them any choice: The first three questions, and the first 15 minutes of the debate, were devoted to Gregory begging the candidates to attack the front-runner. What did they show? That a few attack lines in a debate aren’t going to change the structure of the nomination race.
... though some others are not so sure.

The upshot is that even if Romney does come in first in New Hampshire, which I think is what everyone expects, it may not be the crushing victory he was hoping for. The overall anyone-but-Romney constituency seems to be resilient, and when the votes are counted, one candidate, Ron Paul, may pull close enough to Romney to spoil his party. (If Ron Paul can't do that to Romney in New Hampshire, he probably can't do it to him anywhere.) Or perhaps not. Stay tuned.

—Jeff Weintraub