This week saw Mitt Romney cruise to victory in New Hampshire with 39 percent of the vote, followed by Ron Paul at 23 percent, with strong Iowa caucus performer Rick Santorum slipping down to 9 percent. USC political experts Dan Schnur and Christian Grose analyze the past two contests, and what lies ahead for the Republican presidential candidates in South Carolina. Schnur believes that Romney’s rivals have only a week and a half left to stop him from becoming the Republican nominee. Grose thinks that a change in GOP early-primary rules could cause the battle to drag on.
If Romney wins the South Carolina primary, for all practical purposes the nomination will be his, says Dan Schnur of the USC Dornsife College. “But if a more conservative candidate can win South Carolina, then this primary season is going to go on for several months.”
After the Romney-Santorum near-tie in Iowa and the strong Romney victory in New Hampshire, the race looks like Romney’s to lose, says Christian Grose of the Dornsife College. However, the Republican Party has instituted new rules for early primaries and caucuses, so in most states that vote before April 1, delegates are now allocated to candidates proportionally, based on their percentage of victory in that state. Grose points out that if this election were taking place under 2008’s “winner take all” system, Romney would have picked up all of Iowa’s and New Hampshire’s delegates, shutting out his competition. “It looks really great for Romney, but the process may take a little longer than usual because of the new Republican rules.”
Santorum, Gingrich and Paul
Rick Santorum’s weak performance in New Hampshire after his shining moment in Iowa may be a sign that his campaign is fading, Grose adds. “I don’t think Santorum has that much appeal in New Hampshire and the Northeast, and I think he got lucky in Iowa because the other candidates imploded there,” he says. New Hampshire is home to moderate conservatives, and that’s not Santorum’s wheelhouse. “He’s known for his positions on abortion and social issues.” Grose isn’t sure that Santorum will do well in South Carolina, despite that state’s more conservative population.
Schnur agrees that the New Hampshire demographic was tough for both Santorum and Newt Gingrich: “New Hampshire Republicans tend to be more economically successful and less socially conservative than voters in Iowa and South Carolina. Romney’s brand of Republicanism is a much better fit.”
Ron Paul, who will keep finishing strong behind Romney, would have to actually win in several states to show that he’s a serious threat to the front-runner, Grose says. “The coverage of Paul is almost dismissive, because he’s libertarian, and has a lot of unusual views.” He notes that as a result of the candidate’s marijuana legalization stance, Paul supporters include many young people and even Democrats. “If some other candidates drop out and there’s an anti-Romney taste that remains, Paul might fight him through all the 50 states,” Grose adds.
One thing that’s certain, according to the USC experts, is that the relatively untouched Romney is about to see an increase in direct assaults from his rivals.
Schnur explains: “Attacks on Romney are about to get much more intense. Most of the other candidates — with possible exception of Ron Paul — understand that this is their last chance.” And their negative campaigning has the potential to be very effective, particularly with regard to the private equity investment firm Romney co-founded in 1984. “Their criticisms of Romney not only on social issues but on his time at Bain Capital are much more likely to resonate with South Carolina voters,” Schnur says.
Grose is surprised that the other candidates didn’t start targeting Romney earlier, saying that this was one of the mistakes Newt Gingrich made in Iowa. “People stay they don’t like it, but it’s effective. Romney looks strong now, but let’s see how he survives a variety of campaign attacks.”
Romney in South Carolina
Looking ahead to the January 21 primary, Grose says that Romney will have a harder time in South Carolina than he did in New Hampshire. “Momentum may lift him and he may still win, but the electorate there is not ideal for Romney,” he notes. “In the past they’ve voted for candidates like Mike Huckabee and Fred Thompson. Romney is not like Huckabee and Thompson.”
“South Carolina is such a hospitable landscape for a more conservative alternative,” Schnur says. But he concludes: “While South Carolina is probably much less friendly turf for Romney, the results in New Hampshire are going to make it much harder for another candidate to overtake him at this point.”
Contact Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, at (213) 740-8964 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Contact Christian Grose, assistant professor of political science at the Dornsife College, at (213) 740-1683 or email@example.com.
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