- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 11, 2012

CONCORD, N.H. — New Hampshire’s Republican presidential primary didn’t winnow down the field of candidates, in spite of disappointing finishes for four of the six hopefuls.

When Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota turned in a poor performance in the Iowa caucuses, she bowed out. Not so with the parade of losing candidates who came out to face the television cameras in New Hampshire on Tuesday night.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. and Texas Gov. Rick Perry all said they are pressing on toward the Jan. 21 primary in South Carolina, although only Mr. Huntsman received more than 10 percent of the vote in New Hampshire. And even he finished in a distant third place with 16.8 percent, after campaigning in the state nonstop for six months and holding more than 150 events.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney won the primary with a convincing 39.4 percent, followed by Rep. Ron Paul of Texas with 22.8 percent.

Mr. Huntsman called his middling performance “a ticket to ride.” Mr. Gingrich, who finished fourth with 9.4 percent, said securing the nomination was still “doable.” Mr. Santorum, fifth with 9.3 percent, insisted “we can still win.”

And Mr. Perry ignored New Hampshire completely to focus on what he perceives as more friendly territory in South Carolina. He garnered 0.7 percent, just ahead of former Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer at 0.4 percent.

“I can understand why everybody would do it [stay in the race] except Huntsman,” said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute in Connecticut. “Huntsman said New Hampshire was his place. Third place doesn’t get you much, and he’s going to a place [South Carolina] that’s inherently less in sync with him.”

In 2008, about two-thirds of voters in South Carolina’s GOP primary described themselves as conservative. Only one in 10 New Hampshire voters said choosing a “true conservative” was most important to them.

In Mr. Brown’s view, the New Hampshire results could not have gone better for Mr. Romney, even though his victory didn’t force any of his opponents out of the race.

“For Mitt Romney, the best person finished second,” Mr. Brown said. “Ron Paul’s not going to be the nominee. And no one else goes to South Carolina with any momentum at all. Except for Paul, none of the others’ fundraising is likely to pick up, either.”

Neil Levesque, executive director of the New Hampshire Institute of Politics, said Mr. Romney held onto his large lead because “his economic message seems to have resonated.”

Mr. Levesque also said he was surprised that Mr. Santorum didn’t drop out after his poor showing in New Hampshire.

“When you’re trying to claim fourth place over fifth, it’s a tough place to be,” he said. “Especially when you’re not a self-funder.”

While Mr. Santorum and Mr. Gingrich are trying to run to the right of Mr. Romney, it didn’t work for them in New Hampshire. Mr. Romney beat Mr. Santorum even among born-again and evangelical voters. Social issues were a secondary concern for New Hampshire voters, with more than nine out of 10 saying they were most concerned about the economy.

Independent voters made up 45 percent of the GOP electorate in New Hampshire, and Mr. Paul and Mr. Huntsman did well with that group. Mr. Paul got 32 percent of those voters, Mr. Romney 29 percent and Mr. Huntsman 23 percent.

One of Mr. Romney’s few weaknesses in demographic groups was with young voters in New Hampshire — nearly half of the 18-to-29-year-old age group voted for Mr. Paul.

Mr. Romney’s Mormon religion didn’t appear to play a role in the New Hampshire balloting. He won 45 percent of the Catholic vote, more than twice the combined total that the two Catholic candidates — Mr. Gingrich (10 percent) and Mr. Santorum (8 percent) — received from their co-religionists.

Mr. Huntsman won the relatively small number of voters who switched their party registration from Democratic to vote in the GOP primary. They were 5 percent of voters overall. He also won with people who said they are satisfied with the Obama administration, and with voters opposed to the tea party movement.

Mr. Gingrich’s strongest showing was among New Hampshire voters who described themselves as the most conservative, which could help him in South Carolina.

Mr. Romney pulled in about 22,000 more votes Tuesday than he did in the 2008 GOP primary, when he lost to Sen. John McCain of Arizona.

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