I’m not sure last night could have been much better for Mitt Romney. He won a state that destroyed his candidacy in 2008 and had never set up well for him. More important, the other top finishers, Ron Paul and Rick Santorum, don’t represent a long-term threat. Paul’s a niche candidate who can continue to get 10 to 15 percent of voters who would never consider Romney anyway. Santorum is also a weak long-term alternative because his record will undo him. It will be interesting to see if Romney’s super PAC decides to launch a preemptive strike against Santorum in New Hampshire, as it did so effectively against Newt Gingrich in Iowa, or whether it waits until South Carolina to see if the media will do it first. The opposition research books on Santorum are heavy.
One curious result from Iowa: I had expected Rick Perry to bypass New Hampshire and make a final stand in South Carolina. There is still an opening for an alternative to Romney, but it is closing faster than many people imagined it would.