New Hampshire contracts 'Romneymania' - will South Carolina follow?
Last night Mitt Romney cruised to victory in the New Hampshire Primary - South Carolina will be a trickier sell for him.
Since 1980, the South Carolina primary, to be held in ten days time, has accurately picked the Republican nominee for a general election. Since 1974, no one has won both Iowa and New Hampshire concurrently - Mitt Romney did that last night.
Now, with those facts in mind, we can see how important and - as much as I am pained to admit it - 'historic' last night's Romney win was. He said himself, 'Tonight we made history' and this wasn't just bluster.
Romney badly needed this win to come off in precisely the way it did, that is to say - big. His near 40 percent pick up of the voters puts to bed the oft-repeated notion that the former Governor of Massachusetts can't excite more than 25 percent of voters. It's worth noting that New Hampshire is not a closed primary (it's not quite open either) but independents may have had an impact here for Romney, though it is more likely that second place Ron Paul and Jon Huntsman (in third) may have been bolstered by this.
Mitt Romney's big win in New Hampshire means that he surfs into the more socially conservative South Carolina on the crest of a wave. His biggest opponents here will be Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich, who may stoop to some dirty (or dirtier) tactics to crowd him out. The best thing (strategically, not morally) that Santorum can do is appeal to the Christians on the Mormon issue and national security buffs. Gingrich's best move would be slightly different.
If Newt can leave his ego at the door to the Palmetto State, he'd also be leaving his hat, coat and everything else about him too. His best bet to counter Mitt Romney is to drop out. This would give Santorum the boost that he'd need from Newt's base. It would also mean that Romney would have to fight for every single vote from candidates like Jon Huntsman, who tied up third place nicely last night.
The problem for Huntsman of course, is that while last night was a short and punchy surge, it will unlikely carry over into South Carolina. He doesn't have much on the ground there and would probably be better positioned in Florida if only it weren't a 'winner takes all' primary in terms of how the state delegates go on to vote for the candidate.
I've been making some off the cuff predictions over the past few months and I'll go for one again - I'm currently running at 100 percent accuracy so forgive me if I shy from anything revolutionary here, to save my scorecard. Over the next ten days, on the run up to South Carolina, there should be another drop out, if the campaigns are smart enough. I'm talking Gingrich for the reasons mentioned above, or Perry for his and his accountant's sanity.
After South Carolina, the jig will well and truly be up for anyone not finishing in the top three there. Ron Paul needs to put in a serious showing (I imagine an Iowa-esque re-run in terms of results) if he is to continue on to Florida. The word is he doesn't have much on the ground in The Sunshine State. He'll likely carry on until Super Tuesday, which is a little too far off to make calls over. It'll be very interesting to watch Romney and Santorum trade blows over the next few weeks.
One thing's for sure, whoever wins South Carolina will need to be incredibly disciplined and in fact be the embodiment of one of the mottos of the Palmetto : animis opibusque parati... prepared in mind and resources.
Raheem Kassam is the Executive Editor for The Commentator, Campaigns Director at the Henry Jackson Society, Communications Director for the Bow Group and Chair of the Bow Group's Transatlantic and Homeland Affairs Research Group. He tweets at @RaheemJKassam
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