It’s amusing to watch the coverage of the GOP Presidential nominating process in New Hampshire. For the last year, Mitt Romney’s camp has attempted to create an aura of inevitability around his candidacy with some success.
Even last week, after the photo finish in the Iowa caucuses, Rick Santorum’s success there was portrayed as a boon to Romney as Santorum could help clear the rest of the field of candidates. To some extent that worked with Michele Bachmann dropping out and Rick Perry’s hours long exit. Overall, though, it appears to me that this race will continue much longer than Romney guessed it would. I anticipate today’s New Hampshire primaries will make Romney’s inevitability strategy look incredibly vulnerable.
My guess is that Romney will win with something less than 40% of the vote. That will be a classic case of losing by winning. It won’t be LBJ in 1968 but it’s gonna make things ugly for Romney.
If Huntsman continues his surge and finishes in 2nd place, he will receive the boosts in money and media that will make him a viable candidate in Florida and Nevada in a few weeks. Santorum and Gingrich will continue to point to South Carolina as a state they can win and is more representative of the GOP than New Hampshire is. Ron Paul will stay in this race for the long haul.
This means that for at least the next month, Romney will have to stave off attacks from at least 4 other candidates. All the unflattering stories, all the gaffes and the harsh glare of contention will continue to dog his campaign.
While I think Romney is still a solid front runner, his candidacy is in great peril for the long haul. A weak showing today may be a harbinger of more trouble to come for him.
Update: It's worse for Romney than I anticipated. Huntsman underperformed and Perry has no momentum at all yet they are still committed to running. Between their continuing campaigns and Gingrich's scorched earth policy, Romney will be forced to continue competing. Exactly what he doesn't want.