It is a bizarre process by which we choose our presidential candidates, in the dead of winter in two small states unrepresentative of the nation as a whole and where the populace seems to spend most of its time sitting around diners.
The Iowa caucuses don’t actually pick the delegates to the national convention, but pick the people who will pick the people who do pick the delegates. But this is justified as an intimate winnowing process.
Iowa succeeded in winnowing only one: native daughter and early favorite Michele Bachmann. She dropped out after winning less than 5 percent of the vote. Georgia’s Herman “9-9-9” Cain was winnowed out, not by the Iowans, but by his ex-girlfriends, whose numbers seemed to grow daily.
New Hampshire, whose primary actually means something, is supposed to serve something of the same function. But Rick Perry felt that, according to a count three hours after the polls closed, 0.7 percent of the vote was enough of a mandate to push on to South Carolina. There being more conservatives in the Palmetto State than the Granite State, he stands a good chance of at least doubling his percentage there. Perry is likable enough, but has been unable make a case for himself as a credible candidate for the Oval Office.
Unlike in Iowa, where he won by eight votes, Romney cleaned up in New Hampshire with almost 40 percent of the vote, 16 percentage points better than libertarian Ron Paul, whose loyal followers are severely out of step with most other Republicans on a range of issues, especially foreign policy.
Jon Huntsman finished a respectable third in New Hampshire, but will find voters much harder to come by in Carolina.
Newt Gingrich, the verbally impetuous former House speaker, finished with just under 10 percent after riding at the top of the polls just a month ago. Although his campaign is going down in flames, he’s sticking around in hopes of taking Romney down with him. He’s attacking Romney for his success at Bain Capital, and to the consternation of many conservatives, using verbiage to do so that could just as easily have come out of the mouth of President Obama.
Right behind Gingrich in New Hampshire was Rick Santorum, the second-place finisher in Iowa, who now hopes that the evangelicals and social conservatives of South Carolina will save his campaign. But early polls in the Palmetto State show a strong lead for Romney. And though Upstate South Carolina is heavy with such voters, that is less true for the rest of the state and he may be in for a shock.
Political handicappers early on declared that if Romney won both Iowa and New Hampshire, becoming the first non-incumbent GOP presidential candidate to do so, the nomination was effectively his.
It remains to be seen whether that proves true and whether South Carolina is the last gasp for the hopes of Paul and Gingrich or whether its voters prolong the contest.
We would reiterate that in a perfect world that the Republicans would nominate the most conservative candidate possible. But the overriding consideration this year is not a conservative loyalty test for the nominee, but choosing the candidate with the most appeal to independents, the one with the best chance of thereby being able to topple Obama in November. And in the current field, Mitt Romney remains that candidate.