New Hampshire Fallout

The races in both parties remain dynamic. A big month is about to unfold.

By SHARE

A very interesting night at the Fox News Decision Desk in New York. I had expected New Hampshire to vote, as I put it to an E-mail correspondent, “Obama big, McCain close with a nontrivial chance of Romney.” This was a pretty reasonable extrapolation from the preprimary polls for the Democrats and the Republicans. It turned out that the Republican numbers (John McCain 32, Mitt Romney 28) were not far from the mark; the final score was McCain over Romney 37 to 32. But the Democratic numbers were way off. Hillary Clinton led Barack Obama 39 to 37 percent. Obama got a little less than his 38 percent average in the polls, Clinton far more than her 30 average.

Fox was able to call the Republican race not long after 8 p.m.—rather earlier than I expected. The numbers lined up in predictable ways, with McCain running behind his 2000 performance, when he beat George W. Bush 48 to 30 percent here but not enough so as to leave the subject in doubt. Romney carried cities and towns on and near the Massachusetts border, whose residents (or at least their Republican primary voting residents) don’t want to make Massachusetts more like New Hampshire but vice versa. But McCain carried (at least with nine of 12 wards reporting) Manchester and won big margins in the more outlying parts of the state.

Where does the Republican race go from here? One answer is to Michigan, which votes next Tuesday. There’s no Democratic contest there: The Democratic National Committee forbade its candidates from competing, out of deference to that provision of the Constitution (which I’ve never managed to find in the text) saying that Iowa and New Hampshire vote first by several days if not several weeks; Obama’s and John Edwards’s names are off the ballots, while Clinton’s is still on. She won’t get credit (or, in the short run, delegates) for a big win but could be hurt a bit if there are a lot of Obama (or, more unlikely, Edwards) write-ins cast against her.

The important point here is that there will be a large body of self-identified independents and Democrats with a motive to vote in the Republican primary. Not as many as in 2000, I suspect, when 40 percent of Republican primary voters were self-identified independents, and an astonishing 20 percent were self-identified Democrats. There was a dynamic going on there then that is not present now. Incumbent Gov. John Engler, after 10 years of successfully smashing Democrats, was supporting George W. Bush and clearly lusting after a high position in a Bush 43 administration. His Democratic enemies, many in number, saw a way of denying it to him: vote for McCain, who in any case was to many of them an attractive figure on his own merits. So they did. But Engler is now long departed from Michigan, and McCain cannot depend on this constituency this time. Indeed, his 2008 percentage in New Hampshire (37 percent) was visibly lower than his 2000 percentage there (48, against fewer serious candidates). In any case, McCain has serious claims on the votes of Michigan Republicans, as does Romney, whose father was governor from 1963 to 1968. It will be an interesting contest in a state that has never found a satisfying middle ground between holding a primary (there is no party registration) and holding something in the nature of a caucus.

The dynamic I see in the Republican race is this: Five candidates have reason, from their own points of view, to continue their candidacies and no motive to stop anytime soon:

  • Mike Huckabee won the Iowa caucuses and has some reasonable prospects in South Carolina on January 19.
  • Romney, having won “the silver” in Iowa and New Hampshire and being in possession of a checkbook with $50 million in liquid funds, will contest Michigan and has no motive not to continue if he doesn’t win there.
  • McCain, celebrating his win in New Hampshire, gave a speech that was in the nature of accepting the mantle of national leadership, and plausibly so.
  • Fred Thompson, absent from tonight’s television but fresh from a fine appearance on Fox News’s Sunday night debate, has no motive to withdraw to private life.
  • Nor does Rudy Giuliani, whose sterling policy achievements and unforgettable leadership after the September 11 attacks may still resonate as they did in the first half of 2007 but have not, at least in presidential polls, in the past two months.
  • So on we go, to Michigan on January 15, South Carolina and Nevada on January 19, Florida on January 29, and 22 states on February 5. I wrote a few days ago that there were 60 scenarios for the Republican nomination. I think we’re down to about 52—down but not out.