Tuesday night, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney notched a large double-digit win in New Hampshire, showing few -- if any -- signs of the wear and tear he'd endured in the past few days on the campaign trail, and becoming the first non-incumbent Republican candidate for president to win both the Iowa Caucus and the New Hampshire Primary.
The victory came early -- immediately, in fact -- and Romney celebrated with a speech that, while lacking in personal charm, was a much more rousing, less-hectic oration than the one he'd delivered a week prior. It was hard to argue that his grip on the eventual nomination didn't grow more certain after last night.
Unless you asked his competitors! Yes, despite the fact that two contests were in the books and Romney's stock had risen considerably within a week's time, the field facing Romney -- having shed Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) after Iowa -- refused to winnow itself any further. Instead, the losing candidates, one by one, took to their lecterns to assure their supporters about how awesome their campaigns were going.
No, you wouldn't expect Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) to quit the race -- he placed third in Iowa and second in New Hampshire and has gamed out a long strategy with the caucus states that's designed to pull as many delegates as possible. Nevertheless, it's probably incorrect to say that he's "nipping at [Romney's] heels" -- as last night went on, Romney expanded his lead over the Texas congressman.
And you wouldn't expect former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) to drop out, either. He knows that the electorate in New Hampshire was far less conservative and far less open to his social conservative candidacy than the voters he found in Iowa. He'll want to put the new hope that Iowa bestowed on him to the test in South Carolina and Florida, where the conventional wisdom suggests he'll do better. But his momentum has been blunted by his tie-for-fourth finish last night, and the race is still clogged with candidates that are splitting the not-Romney vote up.
Meanwhile, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman got his New Hampshire surge, and it was just ... okay. Enough to take Huntsman from also-ran status to a third-place finish in the mid-double digits. For all the effort, he finished over twenty points behind Mitt. But you'd hardly know it from his post-game speech, where he proclaimed, "Third place is a ticket to ride!" Sounds neat until you remember he'll be riding to South Carolina, where he is polling behind Stephen Colbert.
And former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) flamed out in New Hampshire as he did in Iowa, knotted in a distant fourth-place finish, with no real sign of viability and not much in the way of campaign infrastructure to keep moving forward. Still, Gingrich told his supporters that he's venturing on, describing his nomination prospects in the same terms as he'd described so many women who were not his wife -- "doable." It remains patently obvious, however, that the thing that drives Gingrich on is his animus toward Mitt Romney.
And that's basically the night -- a quick, boring result that all but cemented Romney's nomination, followed by a long litany of speeches where candidates of further and further diminished standing declared themselves the winner as well. At least we didn't have to watch Texas Gov. Rick Perry stand in front of a crowd and give his less-than-one percent draw the enthusiastic, fist-pumping celebration of his Iowa defeat. (Though if you bothered to ask him, he'd have told you he's doing just great.)
Our own Ben Craw has produced a highlight reel of last night's festival of unjustified optimism, so please enjoy.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story stated that Ron Paul has placed second in both contests. Paul placed third in Iowa and second in New Hampshire.
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