South Carolina

There is good news and bad news for Mitt Romney out of New Hampshire. The good news is that he won an impressively broad-based victory that did nothing to slow his drive for the Republican presidential nomination. But it also exposed a vulnerability that could soon prove debilitating, if not fatal, to his candidacy. While Romney is not yet a prohibitive favorite, he will be if he wins in South Carolina. And he will win, as John McCain did in 2008, if multiple candidates to his right divide the anybody-but-Mitt vote.

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Has there ever been a bigger gap between a party’s enthusiasm for its presumptive nominee (very low in this case) and the ease of his path to the nomination? Romney emerges from New Hampshire with a win that won’t impress anyone, given his ties to the state and the relentlessness he showed in courting it.

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Last night was, by all accounts, a good night for Mitt Romney. He went into the New Hampshire primary needing two things: to win by a significant margin and to leave no one else with a plausible path to victory. The results from the Granite State fulfilled both of these Romney criteria, and it’s now extremely likely Mitt Romney will win the Republican presidential nomination this year.

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MANCHESTER, N.H. -- Barack Obama needs to get himself to New Hampshire, pronto. There are some awfully discombobulated voters up here, and if he has any hope of holding onto the state next fall, he’s going to need to have a serious talk with them. That’s my main takeaway from Mitt Romney’s successful wearing down of a skeptical electorate to the point where, after six years of having him showing up at their tiniest parades and showering cash on their lowliest of elected officials, it finally said: Uncle.

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I’m reluctant to call the 28-minute video attacking Romney’s Bain years, which the Gingrich super PAC plans to air in South Carolina, a full-on swift-boating. The video takes what was an ambiguous situation—Romney’s activities clearly cost jobs even if they benefited the economy, as Jon Chait points out—and gives it a very stark, one-sided portrayal.

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Rochester, N.H.—Having emerged unbloodied Sunday morning from the weekend’s debate double-header, Mitt Romney barreled down Route 101 at more than 80 miles an hour towards a noon rally at the Rochester Opera House. (I can verify the speedometer reading since the Romney campaign bus zoomed past me in a 65-mile-an-hour zone and I tailed it until it turned off the highway). The front-runner’s haste was understandable, since Romney wants this primary inscribed in the record books before his double-digit lead vanishes.

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I've spent the last few days arguing that there’s only one plausible way to make Mitt Romney sweat this nomination contest: Rick Santorum has to beat expectations in New Hampshire so that he comes into South Carolina with a head of steam and consolidates the anti-Romney vote there. To do that, Santorum doesn't need to win New Hampshire, where Romney is all but assured of victory. But he does need to finish well ahead of Jon Huntsman and Newt Gingrich, who constitute the rest of the contending pack.

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Today brought three new South Carolina polls:  Romney leads 37 to 19 for Santorum and 18 for Gingrich in this CNN/Time poll. Romney leads 31 to 24 for Santorum and 24 for Gingrich in this ARG poll. And Romney leads 27 to 24 for Santorum and 18 for Gingrich in this Rasmussen poll. The numbers jump around, but they all point overwhelmingly to the same conclusion: The only way Romney is going to lose South Carolina—and therefore earn himself a bona fide fight—is if the Santorum-Gingrich vote gets consolidated.

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From NPR's report today on Mitt Romney's visit to South Carolina (h/t Nathan Pippenger): ARI SHAPIRO: One way Romney hopes to jump some of these hurdles is by appealing to South Carolina's deep military ties. When a military transport plane flew overhead interrupting his speech, Romney said... (SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH) MITT ROMNEY: And by the way, that's - oh, isn't that? That's the sound of freedom right there.

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Politico has a piece up today arguing that “N.H. is next, but S.C. is key,” as the headline puts it. The piece goes on to explain:  The Republican presidential candidates have swept into New Hampshire so swiftly, you might be tricked into thinking that next Tuesday’s primary really matters. But with Mitt Romney’s dominance here still unshaken, the other members of the GOP field are already plotting to make their strongest stand against the national front-runner in South Carolina — a conservative state in the heart of a region in which Romney has long struggled to break through.

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