While we await word from Mark Blumenthal or some other wizard who can resolve the questions about why the pre-primary NH polls of Democrats were wrong (and I hope someone addresses my theory that absentee ballots cast before Iowa had something to do with that), I guess we should take a look at what happened to the GOP.
While much of the talk has been about the exceptionally unlikely resurrection of John McCain as the Republican front-runner, the demise of Mitt Romney is an equally compelling story.
The CW is that Romney’s loss in IA killed his lead in NH. But his lead was slipping well before IA. On a broader front, John Judis of TNR offers the best explanation of why the Mittster lost:
Arizona Sen. John McCain defeated former Gov. Mitt Romney to win the New Hampshire Republican primary. And there is a delicious irony in this result. If you look at their political history before the presidential race began last year, Romney is the more moderate of the candidate, particularly on social and economic issues. His main foreign policy advisor Mitchell Reiss is also a former aide to Colin Powell and probably more critical of the conduct of the Iraq war than McCain ever was.
But if you look at the exit polls, McCain got his edge over Romney by winning over moderates and people who were critical of Bush administration’s foreign and economic policies and who took a more liberal position on abortion or gay civil unions. These could have been Romney’s voters, but he opted to market himself as a right-winger. As a result, he bested McCain only among voters who considered themselves “very conservative” and were “enthusiastic” about the Bush administration. In New Hampshire, these voters were a decided minority.
In other words, Romney’s national strategy wound up backfiring on him in what should have been his best state. That National Review endorsement turned out to be pretty expensive.
The other newsworthy development was that Mike Huckabee got even less of an “Iowa bounce” than Barack Obama, finishing a weak third at 11%. In this case, the CW that Huckabee’s conservative evangelical base just didn’t matter much in NH seems to have been right. He ran even with McCain and Romney among “born again or evangelical Christians” at 28%, but they represented less than a third of the primary electorate, and he won just 6% with everyone else.
Still, he finished ahead of Rudy Giuliani, who was leading or running second in NH for months.
This is not an original observation, but it does seem that Republicans are playing a game of “hot potato,” with no one willing or able to nail down the nomination. If McCain can snuff Romney in MI and then Huckabee in SC, that could change pretty fast, but Lord knows this isn’t a good year for confident prognosis.