COMMENTARY | As expected, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney won the New Hampshire Republican primary election Tuesday night with 39 percent of the vote. The bigger story is that Texas Rep. Ron Paul earned second place with 23 percent and former Utah governor and U.S. ambassador to China, Jon Huntsman, third with 17 percent, according to Associated Press reports.
That's the best performance so far for both men. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum won nine percent each and Texas Gov. Rick Perry (one percent) brought up the rear of the big names in the pack.
Sixty percent of New Hampshire voters listed the economy as their most important issue, and they put their votes where their mouths were by choosing Romney over Iowa's near-winner Santorum and his largely social issues campaign.
Although media pundits like to say that New Hampshire presidential primaries can predict national election outcomes, that "evidence" is coincidental, not infallible. But it does give the media a chance to stretch their election muscles and start squawking.
According to the New Hampshire Almanac, it's easy for candidates to get on the ballot. The state requires only a completed Declaration of Candidacy form and a $1,000 filing fee. That attracted a total of 30 Republican and 14 Democratic candidates. Despite intense Republican efforts to change the laws, the state has no voter ID requirement and permits Election Day voter registration. Voter registration rates hold steady at 38 percent Republican, 32 percent Democratic, and 30 percent independent. Registered Republicans and Democrats can vote only in their party's primary while registered independent voters can vote in either one. New Hampshire has a consistently high voter turnout.
Before we forget, there was a Democratic primary too. President Barack Obama won the Democratic primary easily, but numbers were not immediately available. Believe it or not, the president's birth certificate nonsense is still with us. In November, lead birther Orly Taitz filed a formal challenge to Obama's candidacy on the New Hampshire ballot. Secretary of State William Gardner denied the challenge and the state Ballot Law Commission upheld that decision. Despite birther claims, U.S. law does not require that both parents be citizens, or that one must be born in the United States, in order to qualify as a "natural born citizen" as required by the Constitution.
There's no doubt that Obama will be the Democratic candidate in November, so the primary action is still with the Republicans. It looks like it's Paul's and Huntsman's turns to start their popularity surges. South Carolina is next. Normally, we could expect Santorum's social issues positions to carry some weight with the voters there, but the economy has hit the state hard. South Carolina's unemployment rate has been at or near ten percent since January 2009, while the national average has been consistently below that since November 2009.
Maybe the Republicans will go through another roller coaster round of favorites before their convention in Tampa Bay in August but, considering past performance, I don't think anything would be a surprise.