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Will New Hampshire’s Primary Matter in the 2012 GOP Nomination Battle?

Staff Report

A new CBS News poll has Mitt Romney clinging to just 19 percent of the Republican vote, with Newt Gingrich nipping at his heels with 15 percent and Rick Santorum surging right behind at 14 percent.

Completely and totally irrelevant.

These are national numbers, and the battle for the GOP nomination is a state-by-state contest that functions as a demolition derby. A couple of more car wrecks and this thing could effectively be over by the end of January.

A confident-sounding Romney has been using a standard line at his New Hampshire appearances that draws a few chuckles: “I hope you’ll give me more than an eight-vote margin.”

No one thinks he is facing an Iowa-style squeaker on Tuesday in the state in which the former Massachusetts governor has a vacation home. Romney is dominating New Hampshire with 41 percent of the vote, according to a WMUR-TV survey, with Ron Paul at 17, Jon Huntsman (can you feel the surge?) jumping into a third-place tie with Santorum at 11, and Gingrich at 8. (Yes, Mitt’s down to 33 percent in a Suffolk University poll, but let’s just say it won’t be a late night.)

So what does that mean? Sure, if Romney finishes below 40 percent the media will moan and groan that he failed to meet expectations. And yes, if one of his non–Ron Paul rivals—say, Santorum—were to finish a surprisingly strong second, conservatives might rally around him as the only viable alternative to Mitt. If Huntsman could break out of the pack, maybe voters elsewhere would give the media’s favorite Republican candidate a second look (though he’s got nothing going in any other state).

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