Following an impressive second place finish – only eight votes behind front runner Mitt Romney – former Senator Rick Santorum has failed to gain any traction in New Hampshire. After an initial bump of a few points Santorum remains in a virtual three-way tie with Gingrich and Huntsman for third place. Congressman Ron Paul still holds a slight lead in second with front runner Mitt Romney still maintaining a substantial double digit lead over his nearest competitor. As we head into the New Hampshire primary tomorrow it looks like a sure win for Romney with Paul coming in second. The only real race will be for third place.
The strategies for victory were demonstrated both Saturday night and Sunday morning in back to back debates hosted by ABC and NBC. Baited by the moderators several candidates jumped on the chance to pummel Romney, who remained unfazed by the assaults and responded well to each parry. In one of the most unusual and irrelevant questions of this, or any debate, moderator George Stephanopoulos asked Romney if a state has the right to ban contraceptives, or whether that was trumped by a constitutional right to privacy. Pressed for an answer to the question for nearly four minutes Romney gave the night’s most memorable response when he quipped “Contraception? It’s working just fine. Leave it alone.”
Stephanopoulos’ question underscored an obvious attempt by the moderators to frame the debate in socially liberal terms, providing fodder for the general election runoff with Obama. For the most part everyone successfully turned the tables and responded with the same conservative voice.
Rick Perry looked stronger in these debates and avoided gaffes as in the past, also deftly avoiding a rise in relevance. Jon Huntsman spoke his strongest rebuke of Romney in Mandarin Chinese, although his point was lost on anyone outside of the People’s Republic of China. Ron Paul was Ron Paul and provided the most poignant moment in response to Newt Gingrich’s excuse for not serving in the military. Newt Gingrich had some great moments, returning to the professorial person that makes him so popular, only to return to the unpopular burr in the side of all that is good and presidential. Rick Santorum was strong and confident, looking much like a top tier candidate. Romney came out almost untouched and unscathed, looking strong, confident, positive and the most presidential of the group. It shows in the polls and will show in the results of the primary tomorrow.