Commentary Magazine


Topic: New Hampshire primary

Conservatives Will Have to Make Their Peace With Romney

Try as some might to deprecate it, there’s no denying that Mitt Romney’s smashing victory in the New Hampshire primary has firmly established him as the all-but inevitable Republican presidential nominee. The final tally raised Romney’s total of the vote to nearly 40 percent in a five-man race in the state and a 17-point margin of victory over his nearest competitor. Even more important, New Hampshire’s results re-emphasized the fact that there is no single viable conservative alternative to Romney. That puts him in an even stronger position than expected to romp to another victory next week in South Carolina.

That leaves disgruntled conservatives with a difficult decision. Though no one expects Romney’s opponents to roll over for him with so many states left to vote, the vicious attacks on Romney’s business career from Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry have done as much to discredit them as the former head of Bain Capital. The spectacle of conservatives trying to sound like Occupy Wall Street protesters in order to smear Romney hasn’t hurt him so much as it has made them look ridiculous, especially when it is increasingly obvious that Romney is the only Republican running who can beat President Obama. In the coming weeks, conservatives must decide whether their unhappiness with Romney is enough to cause them to abandon their principles and to aid Democratic attacks on the man who will almost certainly be their party’s standard-bearer in November.

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Try as some might to deprecate it, there’s no denying that Mitt Romney’s smashing victory in the New Hampshire primary has firmly established him as the all-but inevitable Republican presidential nominee. The final tally raised Romney’s total of the vote to nearly 40 percent in a five-man race in the state and a 17-point margin of victory over his nearest competitor. Even more important, New Hampshire’s results re-emphasized the fact that there is no single viable conservative alternative to Romney. That puts him in an even stronger position than expected to romp to another victory next week in South Carolina.

That leaves disgruntled conservatives with a difficult decision. Though no one expects Romney’s opponents to roll over for him with so many states left to vote, the vicious attacks on Romney’s business career from Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry have done as much to discredit them as the former head of Bain Capital. The spectacle of conservatives trying to sound like Occupy Wall Street protesters in order to smear Romney hasn’t hurt him so much as it has made them look ridiculous, especially when it is increasingly obvious that Romney is the only Republican running who can beat President Obama. In the coming weeks, conservatives must decide whether their unhappiness with Romney is enough to cause them to abandon their principles and to aid Democratic attacks on the man who will almost certainly be their party’s standard-bearer in November.

While Romney has struggled at times to articulate a coherent defense of capitalism, he found his voice last night during his victory speech when he noted that President Obama and “desperate Republicans” were trying “to put free enterprise on trial.” His declaration that he has faith in the people, not government, was exactly the message he needs to emphasize the rest of the campaign. Even more to the point, by making this election about defending the private sector against Obama’s belief in big government, he can reassure conservatives that despite his faults and his difficulty in connecting with ordinary voters, he is clearly on their side of the great issues facing the nation.

During the next week and a half, Gingrich and Perry will be launching their last-ditch effort to convince Tea Partiers and social conservatives that Romney can be stopped. But if they continue with their hypocritical trashing of his business record, all they will accomplish is to destroy what is left of their own tattered reputations. Rick Santorum has wisely stayed out of that scrum and is hoping to galvanize the support of social conservatives to stay in contention. But his disappointing fifth-place finish in New Hampshire may have dissipated the momentum he got from his strong performance in Iowa. Moreover, with well-funded conservative foes in Gingrich and Perry going all out in South Carolina, it’s hard to see how Santorum emerges from the pack to beat Romney.

While we can expect to hear more about Romney’s flaws, the rest of this primary season will primarily be about conservatives learning to make their peace with him. Though he has a long way to go before his nomination is secured, sooner or later his party’s right-wing activists are going to have to realize that if they want to defeat Obama, he is their only hope.

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Gingrich’s Folly

Newt Gingrich’s bubble burst weeks ago, but the after-shocks of his collapse are still being felt in the Republican race. By choosing to launch a bizarre attack on Mitt Romney from the left, Gingrich did little damage to the frontrunner but he managed to besmirch his already tattered image even further. After a disastrous showing in New Hampshire where he is battling Rick Santorum for the dubious distinction of finishing a distant fourth, Gingrich is now headed for an even more disappointing outcome in South Carolina.

Despite a massive infusion of funds from wealthy contributors, Gingrich has virtually no chance at this point of coming back and winning the nomination. Though he pledged to go on to South Carolina in a lackluster concession speech, all he can accomplish at this point is to further sabotage Rick Santorum’s meager hopes of becoming the sole conservative “non-Romney” in the race. Even more to the point, by continuing to echo leftist Occupy Wall Street smears of Romney’s business career, he will ensure that the legacy of his presidential campaign is that of a bitter loser who sought unsuccessfully to bring down the ultimate nominee.

Newt Gingrich’s bubble burst weeks ago, but the after-shocks of his collapse are still being felt in the Republican race. By choosing to launch a bizarre attack on Mitt Romney from the left, Gingrich did little damage to the frontrunner but he managed to besmirch his already tattered image even further. After a disastrous showing in New Hampshire where he is battling Rick Santorum for the dubious distinction of finishing a distant fourth, Gingrich is now headed for an even more disappointing outcome in South Carolina.

Despite a massive infusion of funds from wealthy contributors, Gingrich has virtually no chance at this point of coming back and winning the nomination. Though he pledged to go on to South Carolina in a lackluster concession speech, all he can accomplish at this point is to further sabotage Rick Santorum’s meager hopes of becoming the sole conservative “non-Romney” in the race. Even more to the point, by continuing to echo leftist Occupy Wall Street smears of Romney’s business career, he will ensure that the legacy of his presidential campaign is that of a bitter loser who sought unsuccessfully to bring down the ultimate nominee.

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Romney’s Big Night

Mitt Romney’s margin of victory in New Hampshire may have fallen short of his hopes and aspirations, but a double-digit win for the frontrunner must still be considered a major step toward the nomination. Given the dismal showing of Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich — the only candidates who might challenge him elsewhere in the country — after only two states have voted, it’s difficult to imagine that Romney will not be anointed as the GOP standard-bearer.

Romney’s critics on the right will, no doubt, try to downplay his sweep of Iowa and New Hampshire, but by winning both states, he’s done something no one would have expected him to do only a few weeks ago. Moreover, given his strong polling numbers among Republicans, the notion that the GOP base won’t stomach him as their nominee doesn’t have much credibility.

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Mitt Romney’s margin of victory in New Hampshire may have fallen short of his hopes and aspirations, but a double-digit win for the frontrunner must still be considered a major step toward the nomination. Given the dismal showing of Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich — the only candidates who might challenge him elsewhere in the country — after only two states have voted, it’s difficult to imagine that Romney will not be anointed as the GOP standard-bearer.

Romney’s critics on the right will, no doubt, try to downplay his sweep of Iowa and New Hampshire, but by winning both states, he’s done something no one would have expected him to do only a few weeks ago. Moreover, given his strong polling numbers among Republicans, the notion that the GOP base won’t stomach him as their nominee doesn’t have much credibility.

Romney rightly noted in his victory speech that both President Obama and “desperate Republicans” have subjected him and free enterprise to vicious attacks. But having survived these attacks and gone on to win big in New Hampshire, the only thing Gingrich may accomplish by continuing to smear Romney is to help the Democratic candidate Obama. But it is far more likely Gingrich’s attacks which he is making from the left will not do the former speaker any good. Nor is Santorum likely to make a run so long as Gingrich and his well-funded attack machine is still in the race.

Though we are forced to add in the requisite disclaimer about the race not being over and there being a long way to go, any way you slice it, Mitt Romney’s nomination is all but inevitable.

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Third Isn’t Good Enough for Huntsman

The networks have already declared Mitt Romney the winner of the New Hampshire primary, giving him an extraordinary sweep of the first two states to vote. Second place has also apparently been decided with the runner-up title going to libertarian extremist Ron Paul. That will keep Paul’s buzz up in the coming days, but it also means something else: the end of Jon Huntsman’s hopes for a breakout night in New Hampshire.

Huntsman bet everything on a huge showing in New Hampshire hoping that Democrats and independents would make him relevant. But a third place showing isn’t good enough. Of course, even if he had finished second it was difficult to see a path to contention for Huntsman, but a third place finish ensures that he is finished. Huntsman has enough of his father’s money in his pocket to go on campaigning as long as he likes, but defeat in New Hampshire means that this liberal’s idea of a conservative will soon fade from the spotlight.

The networks have already declared Mitt Romney the winner of the New Hampshire primary, giving him an extraordinary sweep of the first two states to vote. Second place has also apparently been decided with the runner-up title going to libertarian extremist Ron Paul. That will keep Paul’s buzz up in the coming days, but it also means something else: the end of Jon Huntsman’s hopes for a breakout night in New Hampshire.

Huntsman bet everything on a huge showing in New Hampshire hoping that Democrats and independents would make him relevant. But a third place showing isn’t good enough. Of course, even if he had finished second it was difficult to see a path to contention for Huntsman, but a third place finish ensures that he is finished. Huntsman has enough of his father’s money in his pocket to go on campaigning as long as he likes, but defeat in New Hampshire means that this liberal’s idea of a conservative will soon fade from the spotlight.

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If Romney Split the Independents, He’s Going to Win Big Tonight

Exit polls are reportedly showing that New Hampshire independents are splitting their votes between Ron Paul and Mitt Romney. It’s no surprise that Paul would do well with this group because he has more appeal with them than with Republicans. The same is true for Jon Huntsman, who the polls show only a couple of points behind Paul among unaffiliated voters. But if the exit polls showing Romney picking up as many as 30 percent of independents are true, then he is heading for a big night. Because Romney is certain to win the Republican vote by a large margin, it’s hard to see how he doesn’t win the New Hampshire primary by a huge margin.

Exit polls are reportedly showing that New Hampshire independents are splitting their votes between Ron Paul and Mitt Romney. It’s no surprise that Paul would do well with this group because he has more appeal with them than with Republicans. The same is true for Jon Huntsman, who the polls show only a couple of points behind Paul among unaffiliated voters. But if the exit polls showing Romney picking up as many as 30 percent of independents are true, then he is heading for a big night. Because Romney is certain to win the Republican vote by a large margin, it’s hard to see how he doesn’t win the New Hampshire primary by a huge margin.

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The Final New Hampshire Polling

There aren’t many surprises to be found in today’s Suffolk University and Rasmussen polls, with Mitt Romney continuing to hold a formidable 20-point lead. The big news tonight will be exactly how wide of a margin Romney wins by. If he finishes with above 35 percent of the vote, he’ll be fine. If he ends up with much less than that, it will raise more questions about his ability to seal the deal with conservative voters. Here’s Rasmussen:

Romney earns 37 percent support, with Texas Congressman Ron Paul a distant second with 17 percent of the vote in the latest telephone survey of Likely Republican Primary Voters taken Sunday night. Former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman is now in third with 15 percent, up slightly from 12 percent late last week.

The Suffolk tracking poll has almost identical findings for the top three competitors. Meanwhile, Santorum and Gingrich are fighting it out for the fourth tier, coming in at 13 percent and 12 percent respectively in the Rasmussen poll, and 11 and 9 percent respectively in the Suffolk poll. Rick Perry has 1 percent in both surveys.

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There aren’t many surprises to be found in today’s Suffolk University and Rasmussen polls, with Mitt Romney continuing to hold a formidable 20-point lead. The big news tonight will be exactly how wide of a margin Romney wins by. If he finishes with above 35 percent of the vote, he’ll be fine. If he ends up with much less than that, it will raise more questions about his ability to seal the deal with conservative voters. Here’s Rasmussen:

Romney earns 37 percent support, with Texas Congressman Ron Paul a distant second with 17 percent of the vote in the latest telephone survey of Likely Republican Primary Voters taken Sunday night. Former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman is now in third with 15 percent, up slightly from 12 percent late last week.

The Suffolk tracking poll has almost identical findings for the top three competitors. Meanwhile, Santorum and Gingrich are fighting it out for the fourth tier, coming in at 13 percent and 12 percent respectively in the Rasmussen poll, and 11 and 9 percent respectively in the Suffolk poll. Rick Perry has 1 percent in both surveys.

It makes little practical difference whether Paul or Huntsman come in second in New Hampshire, as neither one has a real path to the nomination from here. Things are a little different for Santorum and Gingrich, since both are vying seriously for the upcoming South Carolina primary. If Gingrich comes in markedly ahead of Santorum, it could undermine the narrative that Santorum has definitively replaced the former speaker as the conservative Romney alternative. If Santorum beats Gingrich by a decent margin, it will further the idea that Gingrich is on the way out.

Both polls appear to be taken before Romney’s out-of-context “I enjoy firing people” comment blew up into a major controversy late yesterday, so it probably won’t be clear whether that will have a major impact on voters until the final primary results are announced later.

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Handicapping New Hampshire Expectations

After months of campaigning, the Republican candidates face the voters in New Hampshire today. Though there’s little doubt Mitt Romney will finish first, there is plenty of uncertainty about his margin of victory and the order of finish. After being buffeted by harsh attacks in recent days, Romney’s hopes of maintaining his frontrunner status depends on a big win in New Hampshire. Though South Carolina is more of a do-or-die situation than New Hampshire for Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry, a better or worse than expected performance will heavily impact their chances of surviving in the race. As for Jon Huntsman, the New Hampshire primary is his one and only shot at making a run at Romney. With that in mind, here is our handicap sheet for the expectations for each of the candidates:

Mitt Romney: He’s taken a pounding from his rivals in the last few days, and the “like to fire people” gaffe may also hurt him. Nevertheless, the last three New Hampshire polls show him ahead by anywhere from 17 to 24 points and getting 33 to 41 percent of the vote. That’s good news for the candidate, but the bar for Romney is set very high here. Anything less than 35-40 percent of the vote and a 10-point margin of victory will be construed as a defeat. On the other end of the spectrum, a Romney vote of over 40 percent with a lead of more than 15 percent in a six-candidate race will have to be seen as a sign of strength that will help give him the momentum in South Carolina to try for an unprecedented sweep of the first three states to vote. This race is Romney’s to lose, and New Hampshire is the state where he needs to start to prove his inevitability is no myth.

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After months of campaigning, the Republican candidates face the voters in New Hampshire today. Though there’s little doubt Mitt Romney will finish first, there is plenty of uncertainty about his margin of victory and the order of finish. After being buffeted by harsh attacks in recent days, Romney’s hopes of maintaining his frontrunner status depends on a big win in New Hampshire. Though South Carolina is more of a do-or-die situation than New Hampshire for Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry, a better or worse than expected performance will heavily impact their chances of surviving in the race. As for Jon Huntsman, the New Hampshire primary is his one and only shot at making a run at Romney. With that in mind, here is our handicap sheet for the expectations for each of the candidates:

Mitt Romney: He’s taken a pounding from his rivals in the last few days, and the “like to fire people” gaffe may also hurt him. Nevertheless, the last three New Hampshire polls show him ahead by anywhere from 17 to 24 points and getting 33 to 41 percent of the vote. That’s good news for the candidate, but the bar for Romney is set very high here. Anything less than 35-40 percent of the vote and a 10-point margin of victory will be construed as a defeat. On the other end of the spectrum, a Romney vote of over 40 percent with a lead of more than 15 percent in a six-candidate race will have to be seen as a sign of strength that will help give him the momentum in South Carolina to try for an unprecedented sweep of the first three states to vote. This race is Romney’s to lose, and New Hampshire is the state where he needs to start to prove his inevitability is no myth.

Jon Huntsman: Huntsman has gone all-in in New Hampshire and anything less than a relatively close second place there will finish him. Polls show him currently in third with 11 to 16 percent support with a mini-surge, but he needs to do far better than that. If Huntsman can get to 20 percent, that will be considered a stunning upset, and he will be the subject of a lot of positive spin. But even if enough Democrats and independents choose to vote in the GOP primary for his sake, it’s hard to see where he goes from there, since the prospects for a similar showing elsewhere are slim and none. Odds are, he falls far short of that goal and New Hampshire is the effective end of his campaign.

Newt Gingrich: Despite the support of the most influential newspaper in the state and a late infusion of money and negative advertising about Romney, Gingrich is stuck in the second tier here with polls showing him only with anywhere from 8 to 12 percent of the vote. At this point, nobody expects much from Gingrich, so getting as much as 15 percent and third place would be considered a moral victory and possibly breathe some life into his sinking campaign. Second place would get him back in the conversation as a viable candidate. But above all, he needs to avoid a fifth place finish in a race where only five candidates are actively contesting the state (Rick Perry is concentrating his faltering hopes on South Carolina). Finishing last among those who showed up will convince many still thinking of voting for him in South Carolina to switch to Rick Santorum or Perry.

Rick Santorum: After his amazing showing in Iowa, Santorum has hit a speed bump in New Hampshire where his lack of money and organization has left him with little hope for another upset. Last Wednesday, in the heady aftermath of his 8-vote loss in Iowa, there was some talk of him riding that momentum to second place in New Hampshire, but the polls show him stuck at 10-11 percent, fighting with Gingrich for fourth. Santorum’s minimum goal should be to stay ahead of Newt. Doing so and especially beating him by five or more points is what he needs to convince wavering South Carolina conservatives that he, and not Gingrich or Perry, is their last best hope to stop Romney. Had he chosen not to compete in the state, he might have avoided the comparison but having done so, Santorum, like Gingrich, needs to avoid a fifth place finish which would erase a lot of the momentum he got from Iowa.

Ron Paul: The libertarian extremist is in second place in all the polls and with anti-war/radical Democrats and independents free to vote for him this is another state where a good showing is within his grasp. A close second for Paul would give most Republicans heartburn and allow Democrats to spend the next month talking about the radicalization of the GOP. But even that won’t give Paul a chance for the nomination. On the other hand, should he slip to third, he will cease to be the object of much conversation and, though he will stay in the race, mark the end of his relevance in 2012.

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Romney Continues New Hampshire Slide

The question isn’t whether Mitt Romney will win tomorrow’s primary race in New Hampshire – he almost certainly will – but whether his margin of victory will be wide enough to meet the enormous expectations. His 10-point drop in the Suffolk University tracking poll over the past week isn’t a good sign:

Romney dropped 2 more percentage points overnight but still holds a 13-point lead at 33 percent. The former Massachusetts governor has dropped a full 10 points from five days ago, when he had 43 percent of likely GOP voters.

Romney is followed by Paul (20 percent), Jon Huntsman (13 percent), Newt Gingrich (11 percent) and Rick Santorum (10 percent), while Rick Perry and Buddy Roemer combined for 3 percent with 12 percent undecided.

Could the debates over the weekend have hurt Romney more than initially expected? On Friday, the Suffolk tracking poll had Romney at 40 percent, which means most of the 10-point drop happened over the weekend.

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The question isn’t whether Mitt Romney will win tomorrow’s primary race in New Hampshire – he almost certainly will – but whether his margin of victory will be wide enough to meet the enormous expectations. His 10-point drop in the Suffolk University tracking poll over the past week isn’t a good sign:

Romney dropped 2 more percentage points overnight but still holds a 13-point lead at 33 percent. The former Massachusetts governor has dropped a full 10 points from five days ago, when he had 43 percent of likely GOP voters.

Romney is followed by Paul (20 percent), Jon Huntsman (13 percent), Newt Gingrich (11 percent) and Rick Santorum (10 percent), while Rick Perry and Buddy Roemer combined for 3 percent with 12 percent undecided.

Could the debates over the weekend have hurt Romney more than initially expected? On Friday, the Suffolk tracking poll had Romney at 40 percent, which means most of the 10-point drop happened over the weekend.

Romney’s former supporters don’t seem to be flocking to any candidate in particular, but instead spreading out among the other candidates. Ron Paul and Newt Gingrich have gotten slight boosts (well within the margin of error) over the past few days. And Jon Huntsman has had a mini-surge, moving up five points in the polls to third place.

A smaller-than-expected margin of victory for Romney could undercut his appearance of inevitability, and help Gingrich and Santorum going into South Carolina. Unsurprisingly, Gingrich is doing his part to try to inflate expectations for Romney:

In an exclusive interview with The Brody File, Newt Gingrich says one of his goals is to, “keep Romney from being in the position to rush the nomination.” Gingrich told me, “The longer this goes on, the more clear it is how un-conservative his record is, the more difficult it will be for Romney to survive in this race.” Gingrich also told The Brody File that with regards to New Hampshire, “If he’s under 40% in one of his three strongest states, he has a big problem about trying to communicate why he should be the nominee.”

This is a little better than Gingrich’s last attempt, when he said that Romney should drop out of the race if he doesn’t win New Hampshire. There’s little doubt that Romney will win, but it sounds like he’s going to have a harder time cracking 40 percent than previously thought.

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Romney’s the Saturday Night Winner

Going into Saturday night’s debate in New Hampshire, Rick Santorum’s rise might have made him the focal point of the event. Although he had a good night, the real story was the failure of any of his rivals to lay a glove on frontrunner Mitt Romney. Though the evening began with a brutal attack on Romney from Newt Gingrich, it fell flat. From then on, Romney cruised, and the night ended with him looking more like the inevitable nominee than ever.

Santorum sounded strong and confident and he also had help from Newt Gingrich that made the two of them look like a wrestling tag team. Nothing that happened tonight will interfere with his momentum, and he may well do better than expected in New Hampshire and set himself up for a good night next week in South Carolina. But the failure of the GOP field to successfully attack Romney will only strengthen his position as the man who looks like the eventual winner.

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Going into Saturday night’s debate in New Hampshire, Rick Santorum’s rise might have made him the focal point of the event. Although he had a good night, the real story was the failure of any of his rivals to lay a glove on frontrunner Mitt Romney. Though the evening began with a brutal attack on Romney from Newt Gingrich, it fell flat. From then on, Romney cruised, and the night ended with him looking more like the inevitable nominee than ever.

Santorum sounded strong and confident and he also had help from Newt Gingrich that made the two of them look like a wrestling tag team. Nothing that happened tonight will interfere with his momentum, and he may well do better than expected in New Hampshire and set himself up for a good night next week in South Carolina. But the failure of the GOP field to successfully attack Romney will only strengthen his position as the man who looks like the eventual winner.

Other than a last-minute riposte to Jon Huntsman for his defense of China, Romney avoided attacking the other candidates. Though many criticized President Obama, he was the only one whose real focus was on November.

Other than his embarrassing opening slam at Romney in which he approvingly quoted a New York Times hit piece, Gingrich was back to being the man who rebuilt his candidacy via the debates. But the break since the last one in mid-December was fatal to his hopes. Though he scored consistently, his obvious deference to Santorum showed he’s probably lost hope of winning the prize himself.

Interestingly, the only candidate to attack Santorum was the man who is quickly being displaced by him in the first tier: Ron Paul. Santorum ably turned aside Paul’s comments. But the contest between them looked very much like the battle for the runner-up position. While the long slog to the nomination is far from over, the Saturday night debate made it look as if Romney is about to lap the field.

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Live Blog: The GOP Debate

The debate ends: Winners: Romney, Santorum, Gingrich. Losers: Paul, Huntsman, Perry.

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Gingrich and Santorum lose points by not knowing that they’re now playing football, not basketball. And the college championship isn’t being played now, guys.

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Closing with yet another stupid question. Who cares what they’d be doing if they weren’t here.

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Huntsman back to making nice with Beijing. It’s enough to provoke Romney into his first attack of the night when he reminds viewers that Huntsman was working for Obama while others were working to elect Republicans. Huntsman responds by using a Chinese phrase. Does he really think he’s gaining with this exchange?

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Santorum denounces use of the term “middle class.” Says we are a country with middle income citizens and we shouldn’t use class to label people. Good moment for Santorum.

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Gingrich wryly observes that Obama’s effort to create a European-style socialist economy is sincere. Good line. Then goes back to attacking Romney as a tepid alternative to Obama.

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The debate ends: Winners: Romney, Santorum, Gingrich. Losers: Paul, Huntsman, Perry.

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Gingrich and Santorum lose points by not knowing that they’re now playing football, not basketball. And the college championship isn’t being played now, guys.

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Closing with yet another stupid question. Who cares what they’d be doing if they weren’t here.

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Huntsman back to making nice with Beijing. It’s enough to provoke Romney into his first attack of the night when he reminds viewers that Huntsman was working for Obama while others were working to elect Republicans. Huntsman responds by using a Chinese phrase. Does he really think he’s gaining with this exchange?

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Santorum denounces use of the term “middle class.” Says we are a country with middle income citizens and we shouldn’t use class to label people. Good moment for Santorum.

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Gingrich wryly observes that Obama’s effort to create a European-style socialist economy is sincere. Good line. Then goes back to attacking Romney as a tepid alternative to Obama.

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Romney tries to make the big picture argument for his American century and exceptionalism. Unlike his competitors he’s thinking about November.

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Perry makes a pitch for right-to-work in New Hampshire. Tepid applause even if most Republicans agree.

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Huntsman ponders how much better off we would have been if there had been a different president elected in 2008. Guess that also means he wouldn’t have been ambassador to China.

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Gingrich started off slamming Romney. That flopped but since then he’s sounded strong.

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The next question is about infrastructure. Does anybody remember that the economy is supposed to be the main issue this year?

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After one hour: Romney isn’t being attacked as much as in previous debates. It’s almost as if they’ve conceded he’s going to win.

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Santorum is showing again why foreign policy is his strong point. Good response to Ron Paul about Iran.

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Gingrich’s arguments about the importance of changing the regime in Iran and energy independence that would mean no US president would have to bow to a Saudi king are on target. Those weeks without debates really hurt him.

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Perry is right to criticize Obama on Iraq. But promising to send troops back is not exactly a winner of an issue.

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The love fest between Gingrich and Santorum is pretty amazing. They’re almost a tag team.

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Gingrich changes the topic from Afghanistan to Iran and Egypt. Rightly says it’s a regional problem.

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Huntsman makes the case for bugging out of Afghanistan. But then says he wants to keep 10,000 there to fight terrorists.

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Paul preens when asked about a 3rd party run. Wants a candidate who’s as obsessed with the Federal Reserve and isolationism as him.

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Gingrich turns the gay question around on moderators. Should the Catholic Church be discriminated against because of its principles. Good applause line. And he’s right.

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Romney gets the gay couple in a living room question: Says long-term committed relationships are good but they don’t have to be called marriage. Manages to sound nice but to maintain opposition to gay marriages.

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Santorum says marriage is a federal issue. Says adoption by gay couples is a state matter.

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Huntsman speaks up for civil unions and equal rights for gay couples. That won’t hurt him in an open primary.

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Santorum draws a distinction between Griswold and Roe v. Wade and 4th amendment. Asking the question this way enables him to come off as reasonable rather than a hard-core right-to-lifer.

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A state right to ban contraception? Romney says the question is silly since no state would ever do it. Right. But then says there is no federal right to privacy as in the Griswold v. CT and Roe v. Wade decisions.

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At the first break, there’s no question that Romney is managing to stay above the fray and thereby winning. Santorum looks strong too. Ron Paul pathetic.

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Ron Paul keeps saying he “didn’t write” the racist newsletters that went out with his name on it. Then tries to play the liberal on race relations. No credibility.

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Gingrich attacked as a “chickenhawk” by Paul. Appealing to his vet supporters as the anti-war vet. It’s not fair but there’s no defense against it.

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Romney is on cruise control: the only one not attacking the other candidate. But he’s wrong about Ron Paul being better than Obama. Courtesy to an extremist shows he’s got his eyes firmly on November.

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Romney on Huntsman’s qualifications: He’d be a lot better than Obama. Damned by faint praise. Then makes a strong argument about the president’s failures on Iran.

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Perry’s entrance into the debate is a bit silly, claiming that he’s an outsider as against insiders Paul and Santorum. Stephanopolous rightly calls him on it. And Perry claiming again that he was “commander in chief” of the Texas National Guard is absurd.

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Santorum’s defense of his post-Senate career is effective and Paul is a good foil for him. A good moment for Santorum.

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Santorum looks relaxed and confident as Ron Paul tries to smear him as corrupt with what he calls George Soros-funded groups attacking him. Says he’s a conservative but not a libertarian. Reminds Paul about his own earmarks.

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Gingrich opens up with an assault on Romney for his Bain Investment record. Does he really think bashing Romney for being a capitalist pursuing free enterprise will hurt him among Republicans? Romney answers that his companies created 100,000 more jobs than were lost. Gingrich’s claim that he hadn’t seen the attack ad is disingenuous. And hypocritical considering his whining about ads attacking him.

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Santorum is asked to take a shot at Romney as a CEO rather than a leader. He obliges. And then goes straight to the question of Iran. Santorum clearly thinks his advantage is on foreign policy, not economics.

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Diane Sawyer opens the debate asking about the good news about unemployment. Mitt Romney’s answer: Obama doesn’t deserve the credit. It’s like the rooster taking credit for the dawn.

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The debate is about to begin. Let’s see what happens.

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Santorum’s Slippery Slope

Rick Santorum has suddenly slipped back down to fourth place in New Hampshire, after comments he made about gay marriage leading to polygamy, according to a Suffolk University poll. The pollster cites Santorum’s drop in support among independents and young voters as the reason for his backslide:

Romney leads with 39%, followed by Ron Paul at 17%, Newt Gingrich at 10%, Rick Santorum and Jon Huntsman tied at 9%, and Rick Perry at 1%.

Key finding: “Santorum came under scrutiny at a campaign stop in Concord, N.H. earlier this week when he compared gay marriage to polygamy and admitted he did not know his medical marijuana laws very well. He was jeered for those answers by a predominately student audience. Overnight, his support dropped from 6 percent to 3 percent among undeclared (Independents) and also dropped from 9 percent to 2 percent among voters ages 18-34 years.”

First, we don’t know for sure whether the abrupt drop in support was based on Santorum’s gay marriage comments, but as the Suffolk poll points out, the timing seems to correspond with the polling. New Hampshire primary voters are expected to be more apathetic on social issues (outside of gun control) than Iowa caucus-goers. But if vocal opposition to gay marriage can now actually hurt Republican candidates with New Hampshire primary voters, then what does that say about the future of this issue?

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Rick Santorum has suddenly slipped back down to fourth place in New Hampshire, after comments he made about gay marriage leading to polygamy, according to a Suffolk University poll. The pollster cites Santorum’s drop in support among independents and young voters as the reason for his backslide:

Romney leads with 39%, followed by Ron Paul at 17%, Newt Gingrich at 10%, Rick Santorum and Jon Huntsman tied at 9%, and Rick Perry at 1%.

Key finding: “Santorum came under scrutiny at a campaign stop in Concord, N.H. earlier this week when he compared gay marriage to polygamy and admitted he did not know his medical marijuana laws very well. He was jeered for those answers by a predominately student audience. Overnight, his support dropped from 6 percent to 3 percent among undeclared (Independents) and also dropped from 9 percent to 2 percent among voters ages 18-34 years.”

First, we don’t know for sure whether the abrupt drop in support was based on Santorum’s gay marriage comments, but as the Suffolk poll points out, the timing seems to correspond with the polling. New Hampshire primary voters are expected to be more apathetic on social issues (outside of gun control) than Iowa caucus-goers. But if vocal opposition to gay marriage can now actually hurt Republican candidates with New Hampshire primary voters, then what does that say about the future of this issue?

Independents and young conservatives are becoming more supportive of gay marriage (last year was the first that Gallup found that national support for it topped 50 percent). And while the “slippery slope” argument that Santorum often makes has valid points, it hasn’t seemed to be particularly convincing to these groups.

From a legal standpoint, it’s not a stretch to see how some of the arguments for gay marriage could also be used to argue for polygamy. But from a societal perspective, gay marriage is no longer primarily viewed as a deviant act akin to polygamy, bigamy, or incest. In fact, comparing it to these things actually appears to have hurt Santorum in the polls — a red flag that gay marriage opponents will likely find troubling.

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Weekend Debate Doubleheader Preview: Santorum May Relish the Attention

Major League baseball gave up scheduled doubleheaders decades ago, but the Republican presidential contest is serving up what amounts to one this weekend on the eve of the New Hampshire primary. The remaining contenders will face off at 9 p.m., on Saturday night at Anselm College in Manchester. The same sextet will repeat the exercise less than 12 hours later on NBC’s “Meet the Press” at 9 a.m., on Sunday. But while some observers will be looking for signs of fatigue on the weary candidates, the main focus will be on two men: Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum.

The pair were separated by only eight votes in the final results in Iowa this past Tuesday, and both are hoping for strong performances this weekend in order to maintain their momentum. Romney is a prohibitive favorite in New Hampshire and will, as he largely has done in the past, try to remain above the fray and concentrate his fire on President Obama. While Santorum is in no position to challenge Romney for the top spot in the Granite State, if he can somehow parlay the buzz about Iowa into a second place finish that would put him in a strong position for the crucial contest in South Carolina on January 15. That means he, and the rest of the field  — and especially Newt Gingrich, who blames Romney for the collapse of his campaign — will probably be attacking Romney in the two debates. But Romney won’t be the only one in the crosshairs. Both Rick Perry and Ron Paul will likely concentrate their fire on Santorum as they try to keep him from turning the GOP battle into a two-man race.

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Major League baseball gave up scheduled doubleheaders decades ago, but the Republican presidential contest is serving up what amounts to one this weekend on the eve of the New Hampshire primary. The remaining contenders will face off at 9 p.m., on Saturday night at Anselm College in Manchester. The same sextet will repeat the exercise less than 12 hours later on NBC’s “Meet the Press” at 9 a.m., on Sunday. But while some observers will be looking for signs of fatigue on the weary candidates, the main focus will be on two men: Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum.

The pair were separated by only eight votes in the final results in Iowa this past Tuesday, and both are hoping for strong performances this weekend in order to maintain their momentum. Romney is a prohibitive favorite in New Hampshire and will, as he largely has done in the past, try to remain above the fray and concentrate his fire on President Obama. While Santorum is in no position to challenge Romney for the top spot in the Granite State, if he can somehow parlay the buzz about Iowa into a second place finish that would put him in a strong position for the crucial contest in South Carolina on January 15. That means he, and the rest of the field  — and especially Newt Gingrich, who blames Romney for the collapse of his campaign — will probably be attacking Romney in the two debates. But Romney won’t be the only one in the crosshairs. Both Rick Perry and Ron Paul will likely concentrate their fire on Santorum as they try to keep him from turning the GOP battle into a two-man race.

Perry, who seemed to be considering abandoning his campaign after his disastrous fifth place finish in Iowa, needs to cut Santorum down to size if he is to have a shot at holding on to his share of the social conservative vote. Paul is running in second place but might be vulnerable to a late charge from Santorum. Both Perry and Santorum will blast the former Pennsylvania senator as a “big government conservative” who supported earmarks and is part of the Washington problem rather than the solution.

But the problem for Perry and Paul is this is the first time in the series of GOP debates that Santorum will not fight for attention. I expect him to relish the attacks, which will give him more time to make his own points. Instead of diminishing him, the blasts at Santorum may help more than they hurt in much the same way the focus on Romney has reinforced his position as the frontrunner. Indeed, the best thing that could happen to Santorum this weekend will be a barrage from lesser candidates that will only confirm what the latest polls have already told us: Santorum’s surge may just be getting started.

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