In New Hampshire, 38% of the electorate describes itself as neither Democrat or Republican. That is, more than one third of likely voters call themselves Independent. In Iowa, 57% of voters call themselves evangelical Christians, compared to 22% in New Hampshire.
Sooooo, there is no lock step hierarchical GOP structure among voters. The Evangelical Right does not swing a heavy bat there, obviously. It is a tough state for GOP primary runners.
Mitt Romney has long assumed he will win big in New Hampshire. He was governer of a neighboring state, has a home in New Hampshire and has spent time and money there. For Mr. Romney to find himself slipping in the polls to Ron Paul and Jon Huntsman must be driving the Romney campaign slightly crazy.
Couple this with the problem Mr. Romney has with his Super-PAC now in New Hampshire. In Iowa, Mr. Gingrich surged to the top late, so Mr. Romney's PAC went solely after Newt. In New Hampshire, Mr. Romney will have to take on Paul, Huntsman and Santorum. Perry is in South Carolina running hard among evangelicals, aware that a fourth place finish there may send him back to Texas for a longer reevaluation this time.
I think we may be surpised in New Hampshire by a smaller than expected Romney win. It is quite possible that Paul and Huntsman will virtually tie for second. Mr. Paul is ahead of Huntsman just now but Mr. Paul tends to do less well when people get to vote. His efficient machinery does well in caucuses and straw polls where policy wonks abound. He does less well with actual voters and he will see a lot of them in the next month.
I recorded the two debates this weekend (no, I do not have a life) for repeated viewing. Mr. Paul came across as First Grandfather. His actual compassionate constitutionalism might actually save us a war somewhere. Mr. Perry did better but still seems to have very little of substance to say. Mr. Santorum talked more and said less. He will not do against Mr. Obama.
Mr. Romney is running a front-runner campaign, as he should do until someone beats him. He must avoid the big mistake to get the nomination. He has not made the big mistake yet.
One other thing. When Newt Gingrich starts to talk about foreign policy the crowd is riveted by him. He is one of the most thoughtful intellects the GOP can put forward. He is a multilayered thinker with a startling grasp of facts. Someone has told Mr. Romney not to look at his opponents when they are speaking, so as not to give them too much seeming gravitas. Even Mr. Romney gave in to the subtle seduction of good argument when Newt was talking foreign policy.
Sadly, Newt also showed the whiny Newt with sarcastic remarks directed to Mr. Romney. I do not think Mr. Gingrich will serve as Secretary of State in a Romney administration. Of course, as of this writing, I still do not think there will be a Romney administration. I see Mr. Obama winning with a plurality, in large because some of the failed GOP candidates will refuse to stop running.
Opinions expressed here are mine alone.