Romney sweeps early contests

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Romney greets a gathering of his supporters after his victory in New Hampshire. With his current momentum, Romney will likely be the Republican presidential nominee.

By Brexton Isaacs, Staff Writer

In the last month, the Republican race for the presidential nomination has turned upside down.
Mitt Romney swept both the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary, but the other contenders have enjoyed varying success.

After Iowa’s results came in (Romney-24.6 percent, Santorum-24.5 percent, Paul-21.4 percent, Gingrich-13.3 percent, Perry-10.3 percent, Bachmann-5 percent, Huntsman-0.6 percent), Congresswomen Michelle Bachmann ended her campaign, and Texas Governor Rick Perry nearly dropped out before ultimately deciding to wait for the South Carolina primary.

Rick Santorum finished second place in Iowa, only eight votes behind Romney. This was the biggest shock to the race, as he was polling in last place for most of the election until the final few days. Santorum gained much of his strength after receiving several endorsements from some of Iowa’s Christian leaders.

Santorum’s far-right social views appealed to the socially conservative Republican electorate in Iowa, the same voters that propelled Mike Huckabee into relevancy in 2008.

While Santorum had a strong showing in Iowa, he didn’t fare as well in New Hampshire, ending up in fifth place. His near-last-place finish has many wondering if he has lasting power or is just a one-hit wonder.

It’s likely Santorum also had trouble appealing to New Hampshire because of its more socially moderate views, as he has come under fire for his anti-gay positions.

The New Hampshire results were Romney-39.3 percent, Paul-22.9 percent, Huntsman-16.9 percent, Gingrich-9.4 percent, Santorum-9.4 percent, Perry-0.7 percent.

Newt Gingrich’s two consecutive fourth-place finishes may appear weak but, given the high concentration of negative ads directed at him in Iowa, not many are surprised. While he was weak in first two contests, many believe he has more staying power than Santorum to be the conservative anti-Romney candidate.

Ron Paul had a strong showing in both Iowa and New Hampshire, with third- and second-place finishes, respectively. But he is unlikely to win the nomination because of his libertarian views. Paul’s supporters are widely perceived as the most passionate, and his support is indeed growing, but few imagine him appealing to enough of the Republican electorate to win the nomination.

Former Utah Governor and China ambassador Jon Huntsman staked his entire campaign in New Hampshire, not even competing in Iowa. It was Huntsman’s hope to garner enough votes in the second contest to propel him into other states. But Huntsman was only able to muster a third-place finish after spending six months in the state.

While the field did not narrow as much as many thought it would, the South Carolina and Florida primaries at the end of January should knock off three or four more candidates.

For a strong conservative alternative to Romney to emerge from the field of Huntsman, Perry, Santorum and Gingrich, all but one will have to drop out. This needs to happen if any of them hope to topple Romney. That window is quickly narrowing.

On the Democratic side, Barack Obama swept Iowa and New Hampshire with no opposition. For him, the party nomination fight on the Republican side is a huge bonus. Because the candidates are focused on attacking each other, Obama remains relatively safe.

The Obama campaign openly expects to face Romney in the general election and is happy to do so, as about 70 percent of the Republican electorate is still resistant to Romney.

We’ll have to wait and see if the Republicans will unite around Romney to get him into the general election, or if a more conservative challenger will emerge.