Before the Iowa caucuses have even begun, two GOP presidential candidates are already writing off New Hampshire. It is a sure sign that their campaigns are sinking, and it suggests that they weren’t paying much attention to Rudy Giuliani’s flop in 2008.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who will do no better than fourth, in all likelihood, has said that he’s skipping New Hampshire and heading right to South Carolina. Really? He’s going to do badly in Iowa, do worse in New Hampshire and expect to rally in the South Carolina primary? It just doesn’t work that way, as voters there size up the leading candidates and want to be the ones to pick the presidential nominee (as they have in every GOP primary since 1980). Moreover, I’d be curious to know how much money Perry has left in the till after spending a ton of money on useless Iowa ads. His appearance in South Carolina is greeted with broad grins in Mitt Romney’s camp, which wants nothing so much as the evangelical vote to remain divided. Rick Santorum, however, won’t be pleased to see Perry and his negative ads show up in a must-win state; Santorum will need every not-Romney vote he can get.
Newt Gingrich, who may be headed for fifth in Iowa, is playing a similar game. He says that he’ll rally in South Carolina and Florida. This is even more daft than Perry’s game plan. In South Carolina, it’s hard to see how Gingrich would do any better with evangelicals than he is doing in Iowa (not well at all). He’s in a worse place financially, and his ability to mount a serious Florida effort, a huge and expensive operation, is laughable when he couldn’t manage to put a bus tour together in Iowa or get on the Virginia ballot.
The Romney camp doesn’t appear to care one way or another whether Gingrich continues. He’s as much a help to Romney (in serving as a useful foil for the former Bain Capital executive) as he is a hindrance. His ability to land rhetorical blows is vastly diminished now that his own character and record have been shredded.
The insistence of candidates that some state holds the key to their comeback is a common self-delusion that usually fails to keep donors, staff and volunteers from fleeing. After New Hampshire votes are counted, we’ll see just how badly Perry and Gingrich fare in the South Carolina and Florida polls. Then they and their wives can decide whether it’s worth the money and the continued humiliation to continue on.