Mitt Romney has (as expected) won the New Hampshire primary, taking 39% of the votes. Second-placed Ron Paul took 23%, with Jon Huntsman – who had focused almost his entire campaign on the state – coming a disappointing third on 19%. The result is a crucial step for Romney, who spent lavishly in the state and was always expected to do well.
Given that Romney was pretty much guaranteed to win New Hampshire, the real interest comes in studying who came second. That Ron Paul now seems to be the major anti-Romney figure is going to be interesting. New Hampshire was not supposed to be a strong state for Paul, so the fact that he secured 23% is very encouraging for his campaign. Heading to South Carolina, Paul has to be considered very much the second-placed man.
The question is whether Ron Paul can now parlay this result into a genuine, sustained challenge. There is certainly a lot of anti-Romney sentiment in the Republican party, and so far the likes of Herman Cain, Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich have failed to capitalise upon that sentiment. South Carolina will therefore be crucial for Paul: if he can win there, he has a shot of Romney all the way up to the end of summer.
The New Hampshire vote was a bit of a disaster for the other candidates. Jon Huntsman’s candidacy is effectively over, while Rick Perry is staking everything on South Carolina even if he has little chance of securing the kind of major turnaround he would need. Rick Santorum still has a chance to regain momentum in the south, while Newt Gingrich has one final chance to stake a claim for the anti-Romney brigade’s support.