New Hampshire Home Stretch

The primary in New Hampshire arrives tomorrow, and Mitt Romney still holds a commanding lead. David Paleologos over at Suffolk just put out his daily tracking numbers, with Mitt Romney still in slight decline at 33%, Ron Paul at 20%, and Jon Huntsman at 13%. (Hope I don’t have to eat my words about Huntsman getting his ass kicked!)

The candidates engaged in two debates, Saturday evening, and Sunday morning. The first debate, moderated by George Stephanopoulos, allowed Mitt Romney to escape without any damage. I think the world of Stephanopoulos as a tough questioner, but the ABC debate just didn’t have it. The Meet the Press debate on Sunday morning was just the opposite, with moderator David Gregory opening the door wide for the candidates to hit Mitt Romney. They were more than happy to walk through that door, with Gingrich and Santorum piling on the Mittster, and scoring some good points. Romney was a bit ruffled by both, but he always keeps his composure.

I thought that Jon Huntsman had his best debate of the season on Sunday morning (maybe he can avoid that ass-kicking after all), and I think he scored on Romney with the attached clip. I am not sure that his service as ambassador in the Obama Administration is a big winner with Republican voters, but his comments on the naked partisanship of Romney’s attacks on that service will resonate with independents, who are eligible to vote in the Republican primary. I still see Huntsman as not going anywhere, but he has gotten Romney’s attention in New Hampshire. Paleologos is showing Romney slippage in his daily tracks, and the main beneficiary seems to be Huntsman.

After all is said and done Romney must now manage the expectations game after his likely New Hampshire win. Will his margin further shrink, and will the impending victory be seen as decisive enough? Romney is on the cusp, but he will now be put under a barrage of negative ads and commentary from Gingrich and Santorum. Gingrich just took down $5 million from Sheldon Adelson, so he will be able to fund some punishing ads against Romney. And he has made it clear that his mission in life is to do just that! Romney needs to hold on in New Hampshire and then do the same in South Carolina. He will be the nominee, but that car will have significantly more dents and dings than Romney was hoping for.

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