Yesterday, Newt Gingrich began at 8am at the Philbrick’s House in Dover, New Hampshire. Jon Huntsman was at Fort Harry’s in Lebanon; Ron Paul was at Moe Joe’s in the heart of Manchester for a breakfast meet and greet, by which time Huntsman had got to Daddy Pop’s Tumble Inn Diner. Rick Santorum was at the Shadow Lake Elks Club, later moving on to Mary Ann’s, while Newt started the evening at the Draft Sports Bar. Mitt Romney, true to his transcendentally boring nature, was at Gilchrist Metal Fabricating, followed by the McKelvie Intermediate School. The Politico calendar listed 38 events for the six candidates yesterday, with another half-dozen, for two more outsiders, Buddy Roemer and Fred Karger.

Today, they blitzed the polling stations throughout Manchester, and up and down the state, the agenda kept secret and last-minute to try and outrun the Occupy protesters. On Monday, they had got their game on, forcing Gingrich to cancel an appearance at his own headquarters — on security advice, he claimed, though is seems that he simply didn’t want to give them good vid — while Santorum’s rally at Jillian’s pool hall was a full court press, as angry Occupy and gay rights protesters swarmed him near the car park entrance — in a manner that was, it must be said, not the finest hour in the history of forthright protest.

Yet for all the hoopla, seasoned observers noted that it has been one of the quietest NH primaries in recent memory, and one of the least interesting. “Live free and die of boredom” the New Republic remarked, punning on the state’s motto, while others noted that the campaigns had opened only a fraction of the offices they would hitherto have run.

The crews in the breakfast room of the (blank) Hotel agreed, breaking off from grousing about the accom (“I’m going to spend a day on websites denouncing this hotel,” one said) to agree. “In ’08 they all had offices in Nashua, Rochester, Claremont, all the towns,” a grizzled camera veteran (he was about 33) said.

Now each team has an office in Manchester, and Ron Paul has one in Concord as well, and that’s about it. Though Romney has been the clear front runner throughout, the paucity of on-the-street campaigning has not been due to any lack of competitiveness, with Paul and Huntsman pulling all stops out to gain ground, and Gingrich settling into a campaign of deep and abiding hatred towards Romney.

Instead, 2012 marks the first year in which Tweeting, Facebooking and other social media political work has become as occupying of volunteers’ time as actually working the footpath. True? Who knows. It may simply be that, Ron Paul aside, the candidates can’t rock out a significant volunteer force because they are simply unable to body forth a genuine political vision, for all the talk of “greatest country in the world, etc”.

For the truth is that, after the tumultuous rise, and then very ordinary presidency of Barack Obama, there is no great premium on messianic politics on any side — merely a growing realisation that any return to better economic days will be a slow and partial process, and that the country is on the lee side of global economic domination. The sentiment has favoured Romney, who has hustled the state like a dull man wearing down an exciting woman, to be rewarded, through sheer hateful persistence with the music to every average seducer’s ears: “Oh, all right then.”

Yeah. All right. Air punch.

From the exit polls (polling closes at noon AEST), it would appear that consent has been very grudging indeed, Romney’s lead having been chipped away dangerously close to the 40% figure. A fortnight ago, he was riding at about 45% — now the most pessimistic polls are running at 37%. That would still leave him with a 20% margin over Paul and Huntsman, but it would be an underwhelming start.

Romney has already had one win — the tiny, irritating town of Hart’s Location gave him five of the 13 votes cast at midnight, with Ron Paul taking four and  Huntsman two. Dixville Notch, the p-rn version, made it a draw, two all. When he does win, Romney will be able to point to a rare achievement — the only Republican candidate of recent times to win both the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary, even though the former was got by eight votes, suggesting that it would have gone down differently if Duane in Cedar Rapids could have got the damn van out of the snow drift.

Yet for all that, Romney had left a lot of skin behind in the granite state. He’s an appalling plastic Ken doll straight out of the pack, born to wealth and power, and making a lot more of it, and with the blithe disregard for the lives of ordinary people common to the New England elite, usually identified as Democrats.

From his $10,000 bet challenge to Rick Perry — said as if it was a $10 bet — to his nervous this-is-how-the-humans laugh, his claim to be a Washington outsider, called back to public service (“cut the pious baloney,” Newt Gingrich responded to this, “you ran in 1994 and you lost, that’s why you’re not a senator now”), his (desperate house)wife (“we have a summer place here!”), and kludge after kludge — “I’ve been worried about the occasional pink slip [dismissal notice] in my time” (Rick Perry: “yeah he was worried he wouldn’t have enough to give out when he was a corporate raider”), and the kisser, in the last 24 hours of the campaign — “I enjoy firing people who provide services to me.”

Though he is seen by many as the only Republican who can beat Obama — aside from Huntsman, who is not a goer — there is also the fear that Obama would carve Romney up on the hustings. Obama is prone to the odd misplaced comment or 12 himself, but he’s, well, he’s Bill Clinton compared to Romney. During the final months of a full campaign, he will give up more hostages to fortune than your average Somali pirate lair.

Furthermore, much of the damage may have been done in the past 48 hours, with Newt Gingrich’s decision — if that is the word — to launch into the stratosphere, and attack Romney from the left. When Romney made his “firing people” remark, everyone had a crack at him, and then it was over. Not for Newt. From the 20-minute movie/ad by his SuperPAC reaming Romney for his involvement in Bain capital, to off-the-cuff remarks about destructive capitalism leaving broken neighbourhoods, Gingrich’s attacks have gone further, as a categorical attack, not merely on a particular candidate, but on the entire system.

The attacks have caused the remainder of the right to turn on Gingrich, and created open speculation about what the hell it is he thinks he’s doing, with the betting divided between that of principled commitment to a distinction between productive and unproductive capitalism on the one hand, and obsessive hatred of Mitt Romney — sheer white-hot meltdown stuff — on the other. But it is also of course a measure of the contradiction within the American right itself, since the autonomous finance-driven capitalism that Romney was part of is the very opposite of the idealised 18th century can-do entrepreneurialism, that they hold up as their fantasy vision of America. As those two processes diverge further in people’s lives, such observations increasingly cannot not be made.

The question will return, for weeks and months to come, in the living rooms and diners across the land. With, as we sign out, and 2% of the vote counted, Romney running at a low 35%, Paul at 25% and Huntsman at 17s, the figures indicating of course, nothing specific whatsoever.

Peter Fray

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