With 90 percent of the votes counted, it looks like being a very crowded train to South Carolina for next week’s primary. All of the remaining candidates have pledged to continue, something that will have pleased the Mitt Romney camp, which has enjoyed the splitting of his opponents’ votes.
Speaking to supporters, Jon Huntsman said he believed he was still in the hunt, despite his third place finish.
“We proved the point that this state wants its candidates to earn [success] the old-fashioned way. That’s on the ground, handshake by handshake, conversation by conversation, vote by vote,” he said. “We got it done, ladies and gentlemen!”
Ron Paul, who put in a strong showing for second place, meanwhile had a clear message for the political establishment: Be afraid.
“I think the intellectual revolution that’s going on now to restore liberty in this country is well on its way, and there’s no way they’re going to stop the momentum that we have started. And that is the victory that you have brought about, because you have been the ones that have done the work,” he told supporters in Manchester.
“We don’t always get the coverage or the interest shown on what is going on, because if they did, they wouldn’t be ignoring so much of what we’re doing…But I sort of have to chuckle when they (the media and other Republicans) describe you and me as being ‘dangerous.’ That’s one thing they are telling the truth, because we are dangerous to the status quo of this country.”
Even many of Paul’s most ardent supporters admit that he likely won’t get the nomination. But what Paul is hoping for is that he can stick around for the long haul and accumulate enough delegates to have some influence at the Republican convention. Indeed, Paul himself made this very point last September when he talked about how he and his supporters could “influence the platform,” although he was quick to add that he was still competing for the nomination lest he sound defeatist.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry has also said he intends to compete in South Carolina, despite collecting all of one percent of the vote.
A disappointing finish for Perry and Huntsman would surely see them drop out after South Carolina, and if Rick Santorum isn’t able to regain the momentum he had in Iowa then it’s difficult to see him lasting much past Florida, which follows South Carolina. But the candidate that Romney may well be most concerned about staying in is former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. That’s not because he’s likely to grab the nomination – he won’t. But Gingrich appears now to be pursuing a scorched earth policy against Romney. The longer that goes on, the more damaged Romney could be once he sews the nomination up and pivots to face Obama.
So how quickly can he get a knockout? Indeed, can he get anything like a knockout in a state that’s not considered favorable turf?
John Ellis, writing for Buzzfeed, certainly thinks he should try:
“The Mitt Romney campaign has arrived at its Lee Atwater moment. Having won the New Hampshire primary decisively, Boston must now decide how much fire-power to focus on the South Carolina primary.
“If Lee Atwater were alive, he would answer with three words: ‘All of it.’”