The result was clearly awful for Mitt Romney but Rudy Giuliani was also embarrassed, he only got 4% support comfortably behind Ron Paul, a candidate who Rudy has derided as a bit of a crank, who is at 10% with 95% of precincts reporting. Giuliani’s poor performance here illustrates just how hard it will be for him with his socially liberal, pro-choice positions and operatic private life to appeal to hard core social conservatives. If Giuliani doesn’t come in the medal positions in New Hampshire, a state where he has competed relatively seriously, he is in big trouble and could see his national numbers—which have already dropped significantly—could fall even further.
Romney’s defeat gives John McCain, who has edged ahead of Romney in thelatest New Hampshire polls, a great chance to effectively knock Romney out of the contest by beating him there. McCain is, most polls suggest, the Republican who would have the best chance in a general election and is leading in the latest national polls. So tonight he is probably, by a short head, the Republican frontrunner. But he still has a large obstacle to overcome if he is to get the nomination: the Republican base’s anger at his position on immigration. We can expect Romney to hammer him on this issue for the next five days. The good news for McCain, though, is that Giuliani and Mike Huckabee have their own problems with the base on immigration and have not shown the same willingness as Romney to demagogue this issue. So, if McCain can see off Romney the worst of the immigration issue should be behind him.
Huckabee won big tonight and will be formidable in the South Carolina primary later this month. Yet, he still is a sectional candidate; one can’t see him winning the California or New York primaries. Another problem for Huckabee is that the press think he is not ready to be president. Now, that he’s won Iowa he is going to face even more scrutiny than before and every little slip will be front page news. Also expect a slew of stories about the questionable aspects of his Arkansas record.
One other factor to consider in all this is McCain’s age. If elected in 2008, McCain would be the oldest person ever to take the presidential oath of office for the first time. Up to now, this has been seen as a problem for him but it is worth remembering the adage that young cardinals vote for old popes.