The New York Times reports: “Echoing Friday morning’s Suffolk University tracking poll, two new statewide polls in New Hampshire show Mitt Romney firmly in place as the front-runner, with Rick Santorum and Ron Paul gaining support in the wake of their strong finishes in the Iowa caucuses.” Indeed, it seems fairly certain in a six -person field that Romney will take the New Hampshire primary with about 40 percent of the vote.
So what about the punditry (fanned by the White House and regurgitated by anti-Romney conservatives) that Romney is simply a “25 percent” candidate?
Whether you look at New Hampshire polls or South Carolina polls (which show Romney moving into 30 percent territory) or national polls (which show him breaking past the 25 percent mark) it is evident that Romney is consolidating support as other candidates drop out or prove themselves deficient.
The analysis suggesting Romney had a 25 percent ceiling was silly from the get-go for several reasons.
First, as the former New Hampshire state Republican chair Fergus Cullen explains, one race’s outcome impact the next. He writes: “New Hampshire primary voters like to pretend they don’t pay attention to what happens in Iowa. Nonsense. New Hampshire voters react to the Iowa caucus results, confirming or correcting them as needed. South Carolinians will do the same in turn.” Simply put, success begets success, and right now Romney is having success.
Second, all we had until Iowa were polls. I know that the chattering class regards these like holy oracles, but in fact they are imperfect, transitory measures of support. Iowa caucus results are an even more imperfect gauge of Romney’s support. It was never going to be his strongest state. He knew it (and hence stayed away as long as possible), his opponents knew it and the punditocracy knew it. Yet all insisted that Iowa “proved” Romney’s support had topped out.
And finally, the 25-percenters ignore the obvious: No matter how limited the support for Romney now, if he wins primary after primary he will by definition have proven himself the most popular of the contenders and have begun the process of unifying the party.
In fact, like most of the analysis in this race, the 25-percent mantra is simply an excuse to knock Romney. The White House and its eager media minions have every reason to do so. The conservative not-Romney forces are happy to adopt it as their own. As advocacy, I suppose it’s within the bounds of acceptable political spin, but it’s junk analysis.
This is not to say that Romney has a lock on the race. Far from it. The South Carolina race, without a viable Newt Gingrich or Texas Gov. Rick Perry (who are certain to sink further after New Hampshire), will give Rick Santorum a chance to gather up the conservative base. (By the way no one argues that his ceiling is 25 percent, even though that was his percentage in the Iowa caucuses.)
We are heading for a two-or-three-man race where the winner will by definition get more than 25 percent. And by the end of the primary race either Romney or Santorum will have well in excess of 25 percent of the Republican electorate. That is what a primary process is about, after all — the gradual winnowing of the field, the emergence of enduring candidates and the building of consensus among the party’s voters. Some pundits, I guess, would have Romney quit after Iowa (oh well, can’t get more than 25 percent!), but that is daft, like most of what passes for political punditry in this election cycle.