If the New Hampshire primary did anything, it cemented the perception that Mitt Romney is the clear frontrunner in the race for the Republican nomination for president. Beyond that, New Hampshire did little else except provide the national pundits an opportunity to rehash their same old talking points about how the conservatives are fracturing the vote and that Mitt Romney is already the Republican nominee.
As the race now heads to South Carolina, the only thing between Romney and the Republican nomination is a conservative alternative who can stop him in his tracks. There are three candidates vying for that role, Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry, and Rick Santorum.
Ron Paul will continue to be a factor in the race, but he has no claim on being the conservative alternative. Paul instead represents the libertarian wing of the Republican Party, which has grown since 2008, but isn’t large enough to challenge Romney like the conservative vote is.
While New Hampshire proved to be a detour for the conservative candidates, the seven days between the caucus night in Iowa and primary night in New Hampshire did help sort out who the conservative alternative to Romney really is.
In an overt sign of weakness, Rick Perry avoided New Hampshire except for the two debates that were held there. Perry finished a disappointing fifth place in Iowa, and if that wasn’t bad enough, he finished dead last in New Hampshire and didn’t even break the one percent threshold.
Perry is competing in South Carolina, but in the process has appeared desperate by calling Romney a “vulture capitalist.” Perry’s inability to show any life in his campaign combined with his leftist attacks on Romney make it clear that he is not the conservative alternative to Romney he once appeared to be.
After pledging to run a positive campaign, Newt Gingrich has gone nuclear on Romney after finishing a disappointing fourth in Iowa. Gingrich constantly refers to Romney as a “Massachusetts moderate,” has highlighted his previous flip-flops, and is also attacking some of his business dealings. A super PAC aligned with Gingrich is also hammering Romney’s involvement with Bain Capital.
Since basically tying Romney in the Iowa Caucuses, Santorum has wisely used the added media attention he has received to show voters that he can withstand the scrutiny that comes with being a real contender. He has also has shown that he can hold his own against Romney. In the two debates between Iowa and New Hampshire, Santorum was critical of Romney but has refused to attack Romney for his business successes like Gingrich and Perry have.
A number of people have questioned Santorum’s decision to campaign in New Hampshire even though the electorate in the state is not hospitable to a conservative like him. When all the votes were counted, Santorum edged out Gingrich, which should not be overlooked.
Santorum fought to a tie with Romney and Iowa and bested Gingrich and Perry in New Hampshire. Santorum trails only Romney in delegates, and Gingrich and Perry have none. Santorum only invested his time into New Hampshire. His campaign spent very little on advertising in the state. Having raised $3 million since the first of the year, Santorum will have the financial resources to run a full-fledged campaign in South Carolina.
While Gingrich and others have gone over the top in their attacks of Romney, Santorum has shown himself to be the thoughtful conservative in the race. In multiple interviews, Santorum has stated that Romney’s record is fair game but has refused to attack Romney on his business dealings with Bain Capital.
While the full-frontal attacks on Romney will likely damage the frontrunner, there will also be substantial blowback on those who are perpetrating the attacks. In addition to dragging down Romney, the attacks by Gingrich and Perry might not end up gaining them any additional support. That leaves Santorum, who is largely running a positive campaign, as the beneficiary of the attacks on Romney.
Santorum is positioned well in South Carolina, but he needs another big win if he’s going to be able to mount a serious campaign against Romney. If he is able to do to that in South Carolina not only would he basically have won Iowa and South Carolina, but he will also eliminate both Gingrich and Perry from the race.
For any conservative candidate in the race, beating Romney in South Carolina is job one, but equally important is eliminating the competition for the conservative vote in the states that follow. Santorum has already shown that he is more viable by beating Gingrich and Perry in Iowa and New Hampshire. Now he needs to knock them out of the race so he can go head-to-head with Romney.
It’s difficult to understand the pathway to the nomination that Perry sees, and Gingrich has turned into the grumpy old man who is more concerned about retribution that running a serious campaign. Iowa determined who the conservative alternative to Romney is in this race. By remaining positive, focused on issues and records, and by beating his conservative competition, Santorum has earned his place in the spotlight.
Photo by Dave Davidson – Prezography.com
blog comments powered by Disqus