Tough night for Huntsman, Gingrich

Edward Morrissey

Story highlights

  • Ed Morrissey: New Hampshire delivers no drama with expected Romney win
  • He says exit polls show Romney appealed to a wide range of New Hampshire voters
  • He says results show no realistic path to presidency left for third-place Huntsman
  • Morrissey: Gingrich, Santorum had bad night, but Santorum still alive in conservative South
If any primary this season promised no drama at all, it was New Hampshire, and it delivered on its promise. To no one's great shock, Mitt Romney won by a wide margin over the rest of the field. Not even second place could bring a surprise, as the early returns showed Ron Paul winning by a wide margin over Jon Huntsman. The only real tension in the returns was a neck-and-neck battle for fourth place between Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich, both of whom flirted with dropping into single digits.
Even with the win, the first time a nonincumbent Republican has won both Iowa and New Hampshire, Romney won't be the big story. He performed about equal to expectations, making his victory here rather routine, a welcome change for the Romney campaign after the nail-biter in the Iowa caucuses.
Romney's path to victory was wide in New Hampshire; according to the exit polling, he led among voters in all three major ideological categories, and he won among voters in the middle and upper classes, $50,000 income level and above. Romney beat Paul by 4 percentage points among those earning $30,000-$49,000, although Paul led Romney by 5 points among those earning under $30,000.
The biggest loser of the night? Huntsman, who rolled the dice on New Hampshire despite Romney's long head start in the state. His third-place finish leaves him with no realistic path to even a single Republican primary win, let alone challenge for the nomination.
Scanning the exit polls produces very few highlights for Huntsman, who needed to show a surge at the end to justify his continued presence in the race. He didn't even beat Romney among independents, coming in third at 23% to Paul's 32% and Romney's 29%. Huntsman did win 41% of the 4% of voters who are Democrats, and a majority of those who "strongly oppose" the tea party. With that profile, Huntsman might do better running in the Democratic primary against Barack Obama, but it's not the profile of a competitive Republican candidate.
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Neither Rick Santorum nor Newt Gingrich had a good night, but the impact probably hits Gingrich more. His late blast at Romney's Bain Capital experience may not have backfired, but it certainly didn't do anything to boost his chances, either. New Hampshire should have been a better ideological fit for Gingrich than South Carolina, and with conservatives like Rush Limbaugh blasting Gingrich for his attack on private-equity capitalism, Gingrich can't expect to get a bounce in the Palmetto State.
Santorum's struggle for double digits matters less because of the lack of affinity expected for Santorum in New Hampshire, and because his momentum in South Carolina among social conservatives and evangelicals probably won't be slowed by a fourth- or fifth-place finish.