How Michele Bachmann's bow-out will shake up the race.
All eyes are on New Hampshire now as the Republican presidential candidates prepare for the state’s January 7th primary. The state of the race has shaken up following the results in Iowa, with Rick Santorum emerging as the alternative to Mitt Romney and Michele Bachmann dropping out of the race.
“Last night, the people of Iowa spoke with a very clear voice, and so I have decided to stand aside,” Bachmann said when she suspended her campaign Wednesday morning.
Though she won the Ames Straw Poll in August, she fell in the polls as Rick Perry entered the race and other contenders took their turns as the leading alternative to Romney. She came in sixth place in Iowa on Tuesday, beating only Jon Huntsman who has made New Hampshire his entire focus.
Rick Perry was expected to drop out as well when he reacted to the results in Iowa by announcing that he was headed back to Texas to “determine whether there is a path forward for myself in this race.” His staff was surprised when he declared via Twitter on Wednesday that he was staying in and focusing on South Carolina’s primary on January 21. He then referred to Iowa as a “quirky place.”
The big question now is who Bachmann’s supporters will get behind. Her withdrawal from the race won’t affect the New Hampshire primary much, as the last poll had her with only 2% there. That is not true of South Carolina. The last InsiderAdvantage poll had her with 8% in South Carolina, putting her in third place there. The state is critical to Santorum, Gingrich and Perry, so the distribution of her support is an important factor.
The latest New Hampshire poll, taken from January 2-3, has Romney with a huge lead at 43%. Ron Paul is in second with 14%. There is a tight struggle for third place between Gingrich with 9%, Huntsman with 7% and Santorum with 6%. Rick Perry is at only 2%. Of these candidates, the primary is most important to Romney and Huntsman, the latter of which has based his entire campaign on New Hampshire. This poll was taken before the Iowa results came in, which will give a strong boost to Santorum. It is unclear if Romney has hit his ceiling in New Hampshire but if he hasn’t, his slight victory in Iowa and Wednesday’s endorsement from Senator John McCain could move his numbers even higher.
The campaign’s tone became much feistier this week, especially on the part of Gingrich. He flatly called Romney a “liar” and said, “Somebody who will lie to you to get to be president will lie to you when they are president.” Gingrich is throwing the hardest punches at Romney by far and even refused to congratulate him on his victory in Iowa. He is refraining from attacking Santorum, even though he is his main competitor for the anti-Romney vote. Gingrich entertained the idea of an anti-Romney alliance on the Laura Ingraham Show. Rick Perry is the one going on the offensive against Santorum.
Gingrich and Paul are going at it hard. Paul called him a “chickenhawk” that “got deferments and didn’t even go” to Vietnam. Gingrich replied that the accusation has “the same amount of accuracy as the newsletters he said he never wrote.” He continued, “This is a man who says wild and outrageous things with no facts and later denies that he said them or wonders who wrote them because it couldn't have been him." Huntsman has also pounced on Paul, putting out an ad called “The Ron Paul Chronicles” styled after The Twilight Zone.
The real focus of Gingrich, Santorum and Perry is South Carolina. That primary is more up-in-the-air than New Hampshire and it has chosen the eventual Republican nominee every single time since 1980. If Romney wins the state, it would likely seal the nomination for him. If Santorum wins it, it would probably bring the race down to a two-man contest. If Gingrich or Perry win it, it is possible that the anti-Romney vote will be split in a three-man race.
The last poll out of South Carolina had Gingrich with a 12-point lead over Romney, 31-19. As mentioned before, Bachmann was in third with 8%, followed by Paul with 7%, Perry with 5% and Huntsman with 4%. However, this poll was published on December 18 and the race has changed dramatically since then. Santorum has surged, but will now be scrutinized as he hasn’t been since the campaign started.
This weekend’s debates on Saturday at 9 PM and Sunday at 9 AM are sure to bring fireworks. For Huntsman, it is now or never. For Gingrich and Perry, Santorum must be brought down. And Mitt Romney is everyone’s target.
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