New Hampshire: Tomorrow is the day

Twenty-four hours before New Hampshire again fulfills its quadrennial function as home of the “first-in-the-nation” primary, even the most bitter skeptics of Mitt Romney have no doubts that the former Massachusetts governor will emerge triumphant in the state where a primary win eluded him in ’08 at the hands of John McCain—and launched McCain to the nomination and Romney to the eventual withdrawal.  

With his New England ties, his backing from most of the GOP establishment in the Granite State, and the residual support from his ’08 race, Romney appears certain this Tuesday to become the first-ever Republican presidential candidate to win both the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary.  If his win is large enough, Romney is expected to get a huge boost for the next major contest scheduled in South Carolina January 21. (An American Research Poll conducted on the day after Romney’s eight-vote win in Iowa showed the Massachusetts man leading the field in South Carolina among likely primary votes with 31 percent of the vote, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum with 24 percent each, Ron Paul nine percent, and Rick Perry and Jon Huntsman two percent each).

For the runners-up, here are the likely scenarios:

Santorum and Gingrich vying to be the “anti-Romney”

Although Gingrich and Santorum have conceded first place in New Hampshire to Romney, both are making spirited efforts to secure second place—and the title of leading “anti-Romney.”  Former Pennsylvania Sen. Santorum has support from much of the cultural conservative community.  While this has historically not been a major force among New Englanders (Mike Huckabee drew only 17% of the vote here following his Iowa triumph in ’08), values voters are nonetheless a force to be reckoned with in a crowded race.  Pat Buchanan proved this in 1996 with his narrow-but-spectacular upset of Bob Dole and Lamar Alexander.

With the support of the still-powerful Manchester Union Leader as well as numerous conservative state legislators, Gingrich is a force to be reckoned with tomorrow.  A second-place or even a third-place finish will be the equivalent of a jet pack on the former House Speaker’s back going into South Carolina, where he is banking heavily on his first win of the year.

Huntsman wants to be the “Henry Cabot Lodge” of 2012

Tuesday is do or die for Jon Huntsman.  The former Utah governor and Barack Obama’s ambassador to Beijing skipped Iowa, has played it relatively low in South Carolina, and devoted the lion’s share of his time to New Hampshire.  Considered the least conservative of the pack, Huntsman knows this is not a bad position to be in this state: Going back to 1952, when Dwight Eisenhower swamped the more conservative Robert Taft the first time the state had its “early bird” niche, New Hampshire Gophers have — with the exceptions of Ronald Reagan in 1980 and Buchanan in ’96 — given first place in their primary to the not-as-conservative candidate.

In that sense, Huntsman is most like Henry Cabot Lodge, the decidedly middle-road former Massachusetts senator who won the 1964 primary while on duty as U.S. ambassador to Saigon under Lyndon Johnson.  As the late New Hampshire Gov. Hugh Gregg wrote in his history of the primary (The Candidates: See How They Run) recalled: “The Lodge name, respected in adjacent Massachusetts, was favorably known here…[M]ost New Hampshire Republicans were seeking an alternative to the two leading candidates.”

Huntsman does not need to replicate Lodge’s victory, which was nothing short of dramatic since it was accomplished solely through write-ins.  But, he does have to show some strength beyond a fourth-place finish.  Failure to do so will surely finish the Utahan. Where would he go from here?

If there is no mention of Ron Paul here, the reason is simple: It doesn’t matter.  He and his supporters will continue on to South Carolina and beyond no matter how he performs in New Hampshire.  They are that committed.

“New Hampshire’s primary voters do not always play by the rules”

From an historical perspective, perhaps the best “prequel” to the voting that commences in Dixville Notch at midnight tonight comes from historian David Pietrusza, author of the three much-praised books on presidential elections (1920, 1960, and 1948). 

“New Hampshire’s primary voters do not always play by the rules,” Pietrusza, who was in Manchester this weekend, told HUMAN EVENTS, “They are capable of making Henry Cabot Lodge as a write-in winner, as they did in 1964. It used to be thought that one could not win the presidency without capturing the Granite State primary. That held true until Bill Clinton (who lost to Paul Tsongas in New Hampshire) won the White House in 1992. Clinton managed that by beating the expectations game. He didn’t win, but he did better than he should have. The same holds true for Santorum and Gingrich. Should they exceed expectations Tuesday they can paint the vote as a victory. One can, however, end up with too many such “victories” — and not enough delegates. Yet, if Romney does not win handily, it may mark the beginning of the end of his “inevitability.”