Mitt Romney “won” the New Hampshire primary yesterday, with an underwhelming 39% of the vote, after polling in the mid-forties. The second place went to Ron Paul who stormed home with 23%, after polls showed him at about 17%. Jon Hunstman who had appeared to be running neck and neck with Paul came in a poor third, at 17%. Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich were neck and neck at 9%, and Rick Perry who abandoned the state early on barely registered at 1%.

The losers are … well, everyone except Ron Paul. Romney performed the rare trick of taking socially conservative Iowa and liberal New Hampshire for the first time since 1976, but it was a begrudging victory gained from relentless spending and more time than he would have wanted to devote to a safe state. His less-than 40% result was a blow, caused by a low turnout of regular Republicans, and a higher turnout for libertarians and independents for Paul, thus giving him his extraordinary result.

Huntsman was finished, and though, at his victory party, he spoke of rolling on, a turn of phrase or two suggested that his heart wasn’t in it. “Tomorrow,” he announced, “we’re going south”. Indeed, indeed. Former NH governor John Sununu noted that it took him six months to get that result and “with 25 years work he would get all 50 states”. All the states coming up have little place for a moderate Republican — as indeed do all states behind.

Gingrich and Santorum hoped that they might put some clear blue water between themselves. It didn’t happen, and the twinned result made them look more doomed than ever. It was particularly disappointing for Santorum after his near victory in Iowa — a better showing would have given him leverage to demand that Gingrich and Perry jump out of the race and get behind him as the standard-bearer.

Gingrich, now loathed by everyone, has become the wandering Newt, with no real base, and no reason to be in the race — save to take some skin off Romney. Santorum and Huntsman may be back in ’16 — though neither has dropped out yet — but this is Newt’s last roll of the dice. A ’16 run would look pathetic.

His results-night party at the Radisson was a bizarre and chilling affair, populated mainly by people who supported someone else but were at this one because it was central. It takes some anti-skill to make a Radisson ballroom look less inviting than usual, but Newt managed it. Huntsman, who was the second drop-in of the night, was at the Black Brimmer, a sort of faux-faux pub — for the life of me I couldn’t work out what it was trying to be like, and it was thus one of the best chosen venues evah.

But it was all Ron P all the time. Your correspondent reached his neck-to-jowl packed shindig late, after watching his fire-breathing speech on TV, in which he had grooved with the energetic crowd. “They think we’re … dangerous! And perhaps we are.” It was the best speech of the night by a mile, a real tub-thumper, in which he outlined his whole philosophy without banging on over much, gave both barrels to US adventurism abroad, and noted that his supporters were as much an inspiration to him as he to them.

“I thought I was here just doing my thing and it was going to go much further and … I didn’t know you were out there,” he said, which got a huge roar. The big win will pull in a huge new tranche of funds for Paul and propel him into Florida and beyond. He will not win, but he now commands a stunning 40% of young primary voters in the north, and about 35% nationwide. His losing looks like winning, and Romney’s win looks like the reverse.

As John Podhoretz noted: “Never has a victor looked so utterly defeated.”

Peter Fray

Fetch your first 12 weeks for $12

What a year. Here at Crikey, we saw a mighty surge in subscribers throughout 2020. Your support has been nothing short of amazing — we couldn’t have got through this year like no other without you, our readers.

If you haven’t joined us yet, fetch your first 12 weeks for $12 and start 2021 with the journalism you need to navigate whatever lies ahead.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

JOIN NOW