One of the GOP consultants whom I chat with regularly notes about tomorrow, “Ron Paul clearly brings folks into this electorate that wouldn’t be there in his absence. In so doing, he lowers everybody’s percentage of the vote some just by increasing the denominator of the fraction.”
Fair or not, every candidate faces certain thresholds in these early states. Every percentage point counts, even if we don’t see another seven-vote margin separating the candidates this time around. For Jon Huntsman, taking second or third place with 20 or 25 percent makes a big deal; a 15 percent finish will be pretty disappointing considering the time, money, and energy he’s put into the state. For Romney, winning with 40 to 45 percent will underline a big win, while closer to 35 percent will seem like he finished with a bit of a slump. Not long ago, Newt was in the 20s; now he seems stuck at 9 percent, and another fourth-place finish, in a state where the Union Leader endorsed him, would seem deeply disappointing. (Remember, candidates need to hit 10 percent to win any delegates.)
The task before all of these candidates is complicated by Paul and the fact that he will be bringing in . . . a non-traditional crowd. Call them whatever you like: Libertarians, isolationists, gold bugs, drug-legalization advocates, classical liberals, cranks. (I’m sure you have your own names for them.) But their votes will drive down every other candidate’s share of the vote.
In my Iowa assessment, I noted:
According to the entrance polls, 38 percent of caucus-goers had never voted in a GOP caucus before; of those, by far the largest share, 37 percent, voted for Ron Paul. Among the registered so-called independents who took part in the caucus, 48 percent voted for Ron Paul, way ahead of anyone else. Next-highest was Romney with 16 percent. He’s a Republican candidate for those who hate all of the other Republican candidates. With no Democratic presidential primary to compete for the anti-war vote, he should do well in every open primary from here on out.
In the WMUR–University of New Hampshire poll:
Paul does best among Undeclared voters who identify as independents with 30%, followed by Huntsman (24%), and Romney (24%). And among Undeclared voters who identify as Democrats, Huntsman does best with 39%, followed by Romney (23%), and Paul (16%)
In PPP’s survey in New Hampshire, Ron Paul carried 18 percent, and 24 percent of Ron Paul supporters identified themselves as “very liberal,” 26 identified themselves as “somewhat” liberal, and 18 percent described themselves as “moderate.”
The only other candidate whose appeal to non-Republicans is comparable is Huntsman.
If New Hampshire had a closed primary, it is quite likely that Romney, Gingrich, Santorum and perhaps even Perry would finish with higher percentages than they will tomorrow night. As the WMUR survey found, “Among Registered Republicans, Romney leads with 48%, followed by Paul (14%), and Santorum (14%). Among those undeclared voters who identify as Republicans, Romney leads with 44%, followed by Paul (17%), and Santorum (11%).”