MANCHESTER, N.H. — We are about 24 hours away from the first votes being cast in New Hampshire, and we’ve got a pretty good idea about what’s going to happen. More specifically, Mitt Romney, barring a historic collapse, is going to win.
So what’s at stake Tuesday?
* Is Romney vulnerable?
The question for Romney isn’t so much whether he will win Tuesday, but by how much. Part and parcel to that is whether the increasing attacks on his record at Sunday’s debate — coupled with a bruising documentary set to be released by a super PAC supporting former House speaker Newt Gingrich — have any effect in driving down Romney’s margin.
The latest tracking poll from Suffolk University gave Romney a 35 percent-to-20 percent lead on Texas Rep. Ron Paul. That margin has declined eight points since Tuesday.
If it slips into the single digits — and particularly if someone such as former Utah governor Jon Huntsman or former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum can steal enough votes from Romney to make their way into second place — the narrative coming out of the Granite State and heading into South Carolina may not be terribly helpful for Romney.
That’s because, while Romney hasn’t shown much upward mobility in the polls, he also hasn’t gone down in them. At all. So, if he starts to, it will raise new questions about his inevitability as the GOP nominee.
* Who’s No. 2?
Santorum doesn’t appear, so far, to have turned his near-win in the Iowa caucuses into much momentum in New Hampshire. Had he surged in the Granite State — and he still could — and finished second or even a close third behind Paul, he would pretty clearly be the conservative Romney alternative.
As it stands, Santorum is running fifth in a couple polls, behind Huntsman and the supposedly dying campaign of Gingrich. But the three of them are clustered so closely that the order of finish will have some impact on how the field in South Carolina is perceived.
And you can bet that the conservatives huddling to find an anti-Romney pick are watching to see if Santorum can run a campaign capable of winning. New Hampshire is a test in that regard.
* How much is left in the kitty?
We know that Gingrich’s super PAC just got a $5 million infusion from casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, and we know that Santorum has been raising money at a very good clip. We also know Rick Perry raised a lot of money to start out with (though he spent a lot in Iowa), and Paul seems to have a base that keeps on giving.
The question is how much they have left for South Carolina. We haven’t seen fourth quarter financial reports yet, so we don’t really know.
If Romney pulls a rare victory in both of the two earliest states, and he looks more and more the part of the presumptive nominee, funds may quickly dry up for his opponents.
The problem with that is, after New Hampshire, there are a 11 days before South Carolina — not to mention 21 before the very expensive Florida primary and well more than a month before March’s Super Tuesday — and that means things are about to get costly.
Money is what forces candidates out of the race, and if one or two candidates bow out after New Hampshire, we’ll have a good idea why.
Romney said he feared firing: Romney fought back Sunday against allegations that he preyed on American workers by saying that he once feared for his job himself.
“I know what it’s like to worry whether you’re gonna get fired,” Romney said at an appearance in Rochester, N.H. “There were a couple of times I wondered whether I was going to get a pink slip.”
Romney’s campaign didn’t immediately provide any specifics to the Post’s Phil Rucker when it comes to that claim.
But Boston Globe reporting from 2007 suggests Romney had nothing to worry about in that regard, at least when it came to the Bain Capital job he held for so long.
The Globe reported that, when Romney took his job at Bain, he was guaranteed that he could return to his previous job as a Bain consultant if it didn’t work out.
Expect to hear more about this in the coming days.
Romney breaks 30 percent in the Gallup national tracking poll for the first time.
Gingrich explains his comments about racial minorities and food stamps.
Tim Pawlenty jokes that his campaign was shorter-lived than the Kim Kardashian-Kris Humphries marriage.
The Tea Party Express, which previous “supported” Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), will endorse before South Carolina.
New Hampshire Rep. Frank Guinta (R) won’t endorse before Tuesday’s primary.
The conservative Club for Growth suggests Santorum was a big-government conservative. The Club was formerly headed by Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.); Santorum backed then-Sen. Arlen Specter when Toomey challenged him in a 2004 primary.
Paul says he has supporters in the Occupy Wall Street movement.
Paul defends his age (which is 76).
Recognizing the winner-take-all nature of Florida, Paul says he will largely bypass the Sunshine State’s primary. Paul is focusing more than the other candidates on the delegate race — particularly caucus states where his organization can make an impact.
“As Mitt Romney surges, Republican divisions sharpen” — Paul West, Los Angeles Times
“Short-term gain may mean long-term political pain” — Chris Cillizza, Washington Post
“For Jon Huntsman, New Hampshire primary could be now or never” — Sandhya Somashekhar and Nia-Malika Henderson, Washington Post
“Lessons learned, Santorum on comeback trail” — Paul Kane, Washington Post
“Supreme Court to enter tangled Texas redistricting case” — Warren Richey, Christian Science Monitor
“Super PACs alter the dynamics of fundraising” — T.W. Farnam, Washington Post
“In Manchester, flinty tradition meets real poverty” — Ann Gerhart, Washington Post