Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney greets audience members during a campaign stop at Gilchrist Metal Fabricating in Hudson, New Hampshire January 9, 2012.
Credits: (REUTERS/Brian Snyder )
It is widely expected that by Tuesday night, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney will have decisively won the New Hampshire primary and will be on his way to becoming the Republican candidate in the November presidential election.
That's not news to anyone - although it should reassure Canadians whose future is inextricably linked to events in the U.S.
Compared to all the other GOP contenders, Romney seems the most "Canadian," in demeanour, modesty, competence, style, values. This isn't to disparage the others, just an observation.
Romney's lead in the polls (which are rarely wrong) is about double his closest contender (Ron Paul), and in the two debates since his razor-thin win in Iowa last Tuesday, Romney escaped unscathed. In fact, he gained stature and strength.
In the fight for second place, Rick Santorum, who's been the flavour of the week since doing well in Iowa, sort of fizzled in the debates. After the South Carolina primary in 10 days, he'll vanish into the background. Perhaps forever. Asterisk country.
The astonishing thing so far is the (self) destruction of Newt Gingrich. Once favoured in Iowa, he finished a fading fourth. By turning nasty in New Hampshire, Gingrich plummeted in polls from around 25% to 8%; in South Carolina polls, he has gone over the cliff - plunging from around 42% to 19% and still falling.
This hurts Gingrich in Florida, where two days ago he was leading Romney by seven points, he now trails Romney by six - 31% to 25%. If anyone but Romney is to be the Republican candidate in November, a miracle is needed.
For those who don't like Romney - whom Gingrich seems unable to address by name, other than as a "Massachusetts Moderate" - his rivals are so busy sniping at one another that he remains unscarred.
That said, there's a cloud looming on the Republican horizon with Romney's seemingly insurmountable lead. On America's horizon, too.
As it looks now, Libertarian (if that's what he is) Ron Paul seems likely to finish second in New Hampshire. He'll likely get half of the number of votes Romney gets - but double the number that Santorum gets.
Then in South Carolina, Santorum could finish second to Romney, but with twice as many votes as Ron Paul. What do these guys do then?
When you look at Florida, whose primary is at the end on the month, Santorum is barely on the chart (1.5%) and Paul not much better (7.5%). Romney is romping ahead.
The growing concern for the Republican party is that at some point Ron Paul will drop out of the race and declare himself as a third party candidate. If so, he'd be the 2012 version of Ross Perot in 2000, whose run guaranteed Bill Clinton would defeat George H.W. Bush for the presidency.
Paul can't win America. Not as a Republican, Libertarian, Independent, Third Party or candidate from Outer Space. But he does have an ardent following and makes sense when he talks domestic politics, but very little sense when he gets into foreign policy.
Paul is a classic spoiler.
No one is sure what he's likely to do. Perhaps not even himself. Maybe it hinges on how seriously he wants Barack Obama replaced as president, because if decides to run as an independent or whatever, Obama's chances for re-election skyrocket.
New Hampshire today is important - especially if Ron Paul finishes a strong second.