New Hampshire straw poll: Romney wins an impressive victory

The New Hampshire Republican Party met today to pick a new chair (choosing a Tea Party favourite over the establishment pick endorsed by outgoing party chairman and former White House Chief of Staff John H. Sununu), but also to participate in the first presidential straw poll of the season. For those of you who don’t know what a straw poll is, it’s a sort of mock election held by activists, generally to determine which candidates are and aren’t viable within their particular interest group or political community. The CPAC straw poll, as well as the Ames, Iowa, contest (to be held on August 13 this year) are traditionally seen as early indications of who the conservative base is and isn’t enthusiastic about in the presidential field. Last time around, at the 2007 Ames straw poll, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee’s strong second place finish behind former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney gave the former a major boost – Huckabee went on to win the Iowa caucuses, and do well in subsequent contests.

This early New Hampshire face-off was clearly won by Mitt Romney, with Ron Paul placing second:

The leaders of the New Hampshire Republican Party have spoken, and they have given Mitt Romney the early presidential lead in the Granite State. In the first-of-its-kind straw poll of members of the New Hampshire Republican State Committee, Romney drew 35% of the total vote. Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) came in second with 11%.

The straw poll was conducted in Derry, NH and was sponsored by ABC News and WMUR-TV…

The top 10 results from the straw poll are below. For the complete totals, see WMUR’s website:

  • Mitt Romney 35.14%
  • Ron Paul 10.51%
  • Tim Pawlenty 7.61%
  • Sarah Palin 6.88%
  • Michele Bachmann 5.07%
  • Jim DeMint 5.07%
  • Herman Cain 3.99%
  • Chris Christie 3.26%
  • Rick Santorum 3.26%
  • Mitch Daniels 2.90%

What this clearly shows is that, for the moment at least, Mitt Romney is way out in front, with everyone else way, way behind. He’s the establishment candidate. Ron Paul’s viability in this libertarian-leaning state, while a sign 0f Paul’s enduring appeal to a portion of the conservative electorate, can probably not be generalised nationwide – Iowa republicans, for example, lean evangelical, while lacking the same extreme anti-government views that Paul espouses. Tim Pawlenty did remarkably well, considering he’s about as boring and instantly forgettable as one can get. But Sarah Palin has to be worried – while New Hampshire isn’t her kind of state, she should be getting more than 7% among party activists, considering that her name recognition is about 100%. People have already made their minds up about her. She might just pick up Michele Bachmann’s 5%, but that’s about it. That’s her ceiling. Jim DeMint can be happy about his 5%, considering that he’s shown no signs of running and hasn’t been visiting any primary states. Herman Cain’s 4%, given that no-one knows who he is, isn’t bad either. But everyone else did terribly. Newt Gingrich, who most media types consider to be a frontrunner, didn’t even place in the top 10. Mike Huckabee got under 3% (though he’s polling extremely well in Iowa, so he can afford to be a bit less worried). Chris Christie, who’s purportedly the new darling of the right, did badly too. And how much would it suck to be John Thune, that media favourite, the fresh face from South Dakota, who placed in 21st and last place with 0% of the vote?

These straw polls don’t matter much at this stage. We don’t even know who is and isn’t running yet. And unknown candidates can certainly pull off upsets with the right campaign strategy – Christ, no-one had even heard of Mike Huckabee back in 2007! Still, though, what this shows is that, as of now, Mitt Romney is the man to beat. And if things stay this way, the only way anyone can best him is to be the anti-Romney, anti-establishment candidate – which is why one assumes he’s dying to have Sarah Palin enter the race.

And yes, I realise that other posts on the site suggest that the race is wide-open. That’s true. Anyone can win right now. But if you wanted to bet money on anyone, I’d suggest a fiver on Romney. Not more than that – worth waiting and seeing how he deals with past political flip-flops like healthcare and abortion – but he’s the favourite right now.

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