Is it Jon Huntsman's turn to be the 'not Romney' candidate?
Yes, Rick Santorum, for all intents and purposes, won the Iowa Caucuses last night. But no one expects him to seriously challenge Mitt Romney in New Hampshire. Santorum is likely to show his face in New Hampshire but husband his resources for the contest in South Carolina on January 21.
Indeed, a CNN "flash poll" of New Hampshire residents last night showed Romney ahead of Ron Paul 47-17% with Jon Huntsman at 13% and Rick Santorum doubling his support from 5 to 10%. Santorum's numbers will probably improve but he will be fighting for second place with Paul and Huntsman.
Which brings up an interesting point made by Allahpundit:
For all the lip service paid to momentum after Iowa, not once in 35 years has that momentum been strong enough to propel the winner of a contested race to a second victory in New Hampshire. That's explainable partly by demographics, of course - social cons do better in the midwest while, er, "mavericks" do better in the northeast - but it's astounding to think that no candidate's been able to play well enough to both electorates to win both states. The obvious question: Is there some segment of New Hampshire undecideds who vote against the Iowa winner simply for strategic reasons, whether to make the race "interesting" or to distinguish New Hampshire or for some other reason? If so, and if Romney wins tonight, who's the likely beneficiary of that next week? Santorum will get a bounce of some sort, but he seems like a bad match for those voters. Paul is as maverick-y as they come, but Huntsman's been hitting him with brutal ads over the newsletters so there may be a low ceiling for him now. Come Wednesday, Huntsman might be the only guy in the field who hasn't lost a contested primary - yet - to Romney, which gives him a little extra "Not Romney" buzz, and if he gets the sort of second look from conservative media that Erickson's hinting at, it could start to tilt undecideds towards him. All he has to do is hope for the best, do well at the debates this weekend, and then, um, figure out a way to win anywhere besides New Hampshire and he's golden.
Besides New Hampshire, the primaries set up nicely for Santorum with the SC contest on the 21st and Florida looming on the 31st. Those two states should be fertile ground for Santorum's populist Christian conservative message of jobs and values.
But entrance polls conducted before caucus goers filed into the meeting sites showed that far and away, the most important issue to Republican voters was electability. That means the ability to attract independents and legions of disaffected Democrats who might be persuaded to dump Obama and vote GOP in November is prized by primary voters above all else. In that respect, both Romney and Huntsman have the advantage.
One shouldn't sell Santorum short as far as his appeal to indies. He won election to the senate in 2004 by 6% in a state - Pennsylvania - with heavy Democratic registration. But will that appeal translate more broadly across the country? Current polls suggest not, which leaves the GOP voter with the prospect of nominating Mitt Romney - or taking Jon Huntsman seriously.
Huntsman has come from the very low single digits to a respectable third place in New Hampshire. He is throwing everything into the primary - having moved to New Hampshire for the duration of the contest. Now that the focus turns to the Granite State, will voters take a closer look at the former Utah governor?
With Ron Paul coming out of Iowa damaged, and Rick Santorum making only a token effort in New Hampshire, the stage is set for another back of the pack rush to the front by a candidate. Given the number of surprises in this race so far, it is not impossible for a Huntsman boomlet to develop and give us a surprise on primary night next Tuesday.