Mitt Romney won New Hampshire with a solid performance, Ron Paul finished second, and Jon Huntsman wound up a disappointing third and will presumably drop out sooner rather than later. That’s your headline from the Granite State.
Even better for Romney, Rick Santorum fizzled. The votes are still being counted, but as of now he’s a bit behind Newt Gingrich for fourth place. Had Gingrich dropped out after his fifth place finish in Iowa, Santorum might have attracted Gingrich voters and finished a strong third, or even second, in New Hampshire. And he would be the clear conservative alternative in South Carolina next Saturday. But there would be no huge Super PAC attack-ad buy in South Carolina. Which way would have been better for Romney? It’s not an easy call.
Does Romney have it wrapped up now? He’s had a good week, no question. Despite Romney taking a serious hit over the last few days, it’s very hard to see how anyone other than him could win the nomination. Paul and Gingrich clearly draw the vetoes of important GOP groups. Huntsman probably does too – and if he couldn’t break through in the state he’s been camped out in and that seems to suit his candidacy, he likely won’t top even 10 percent in any of the upcoming states.
If all the conservative leaders who haven’t endorsed yet went all-in for Santorum, or even Rick Perry, it’s possible to imagine that producing a win in South Carolina, and then that candidate having a fighting chance in Florida at the end of January. That’s an increasingly unlikely result, but I guess I won’t say that the nomination is totally wrapped up yet.
The problem is that both Santorum and Perry have shown themselves to be such weak campaigners that even with a hefty boost, it seems unlikely they could defeat Romney. And if that’s the case, and if party actors believe that’s the case, then it’s far more likely that they either remain quiet or even shut things down by supporting Romney.
All in all, it’s not quite over yet, but it’s getting very, very close to being over.