Iowa and New Hampshire. Could there be two states with a more varied GOP primary electorate than these two?
The GOP primary electorate in Iowa is dominated by social conservative Evangelical Christians and considered one of the most conservative electorates in the country. In complete contrast, the GOP primary electorate in New Hampshire has a plethora of economic business conservatives. Regarding party nominations, these two GOP factions have historically supported opposite ends of the GOP political spectrum. For instance, in Iowa in 2008 the social conservative Mike Huckabee, Former Governor of Arkansas, won the Iowa caucus, while the business conservative John McCain, Senator from Arizona, won in New Hampshire. Huckabee and McCain were at the opposite ends of the GOP spectrum and accordingly the two states voted for the person who more closely aligned with their faction of the GOP electorate.
What’s different in 2012 is that Mitt Romney nearly won in both states. Romney has obvious advantages in the GOP primary field in that he ran for president in 2008 and has significantly better organizational and financial resources than the rest of the GOP nominees.
However, the interesting thing to note is that, while Romney has almost won both states (Santorum received only 34 votes more than Romney) , he is still not overwhelming liked by the GOP electorate as a whole. Throughout the entire primary cycle Romney has only been polling between 20-30%, poll dependent, while the field has gone through a wide variety of anti-Romney’s—Donald Trump, Michelle Bachman, Rick Perry, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Santorum.
So what do we know? We know that Romney isn’t liked by a large majority of the GOP electorate. Yet despite this, Romney has won the first two primary contests, which were in very different states with very different electorates.
The question is: can Romney’s run be stopped with defeats in the two contests later this month in South Carolina and Florida?
The answer is yes he can, but it doesn’t seem likely. Romney has been winning the business economic conservative wing of the Republican Party while Perry, Gingrich and Santorum are splitting the social conservative wing of the party.
The one avenue to a not-Romney emerging is for all but one of the not-Romney’s to drop out, creating a one-on-one match-up between Romney and a not-Romney; however, this seems highly unlikely (although not impossible). Gingrich’s personality does not lead to him dropping out of the race, nor does it seem likely that Santorum will drop out after his strong finish in Iowa. On the other hand, Perry’s poor polling would not make much of a difference in any coming elections either way.