There is virtually no doubt that Mitt Romney will win the New Hampshire presidential primary tonight. However, the urge is so overwhelming to paint him as weak (by liberals rooting for President Obama and conservatives desperate for a not-Romney alternative) that by the evening’s end you’ll think he came in fourth. I can hear the spin now: “In his second win in a row, Mitt Romney seriously underperformed expectations under a storm of criticism from candidates who finished with less than 10 percent of the vote tonight. Conservative bloggers and their dozens of readers declared that Romney is ‘in serious trouble’ and urged him to get out of the race. Other analysts pointed to today’s Gallup national poll, showing Romney at the 30 percent mark as evidence that he had hit a new ceiling. ‘Just because his old ceiling was 25 percent doesn’t mean he is gaining ground,’ said a former state senator from New Mexico who has endorsed Texas Gov. Rick Perry.”
You get the picture. Certainly, some Romney allies will declare the race is over. But that is as silly as the suggestions that he will, after winning a second primary, be in a weakened state. The race will move on to South Carolina, where the ad wars will be furious. South Carolina isn’t known for genteel politics, as Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) found out in 2000. But the candidates who show they can win there will gain strength, and those who continually trail the pack are not advantaged simply because the media give them a megaphone disproportionate to the likelihood of success.
The Romney camp today sent out a list of states where other candidates have failed to qualify for the ballot. Included was a pointed message from spokeswoman Andrea Saul:
As the focus has shifted from Iowa to New Hampshire and then on to South Carolina, there have been some important developments in states with upcoming primaries that have received little attention. In a handful of states, with the exception of Ron Paul’s and our campaign, the other candidates have failed to get their names on the ballot or will not have the delegates needed on the ballot. As voters cast their vote today and after, how much will it mean if their chosen candidate isn’t even competing in subsequent states? It begs the question of if these candidates are really national candidates or just regional candidates.
In other words, the candidates who expect to challenge Romney had better get their acts together. And fast.