Analysis: Romney can look ahead to tough general election with N.H. win
MANCHESTER, N.H. — It’s safe for Mitt Romney to start looking ahead to the general election with his win in the New Hampshire primary, but the challenge for the GOP front runner is just beginning.
With his decisive victory in the Granite State on Tuesday, Romney became the first candidate in modern history to win Iowa and New Hampshire in a contested primary. Barring a major surprise in the South Carolina primary on Jan. 21, Romney is now the odds on favorite to win the GOP’s presidential nomination.
He made that abundantly clear in his victory speech in Manchester, which targeted President Obama and his handling the economy while brushing aside his GOP foes.
“President Obama wakes up every morning, looks out across America and is proud to announce, ‘It could be worse.’ ‘It could be worse’? That is not what it means to be an American,” said Romney. “It must be better and it will be better.
“The president has run out of ideas. Now, he’s run out of excuses,” he added.
Romney emerges from New Hampshire with some clear advantages: He has the money and know-how to start building a national campaign organization, a strong majority of his supporters were contacted by his campaign in New Hampshire, and conservatives opposed to Romney have failed to coalesce around a single alternative.
But on the same token, Romney has not united Republicans around his candidacy and enthusiasm for Romney remains low compared to a candidate like Ron Paul, who finished second in New Hampshire on the backs of a smaller core group of supporters and first time voters. Turnout in the New Hampshire GOP contest appears to be short of expectations, which observers are interpreting as a sign that Romney doesn’t inspire people to get out and vote.
And some key debate flashpoints between the Republican candidates could provide ample fodder for President Obama to use against Romney in a potential general election match up. Two that come to mind are the controversy surrounding his record at the private equity firm Bain Capital and his right turn on immigration reform.
Allies of Newt Gingrich has already committed millions of dollars on an ad campaign and movie disparaging Romney’s tenure at Bain, painting him as a greedy Wall Street type who’s enthralled with laying people off, not creating jobs.
“It’s worth watching how Romney plays outside his comfort zone in terms of more economically vulnerable voters,” wrote ABC’s Polling/Analysis unit. “He won strongly among voters in households with incomes over $100,000 a year, and also prevailed – if by a less-wide margin – among those in the $50,00-$100,000 category. Among less well-off voters, though, the vote was more scattered.”
Can the former Massachusetts governor win over working-class voters that play a crucial role in deciding swing states that Obama carried in 2008, like Ohio?
Romney could also face a challenge in states that are more diverse than Iowa and New Hampshire, whose populations are over 90 percent white.
Upcoming nominating contests in states like Florida, Nevada, and Arizona could provide a glimpse of how Romney performs in a more diverse environment. But as Romney indicated this week, the real test could be how he performs with Latinos, a group that swung heavily to Obama in 2008 after showing openness to Republicans in 2004, in the general election.
Will Romney be able to win over Latinos in southwestern swing states like Colorado and New Mexico with his immigration position, which Rick Perry described as heartless?
These questions will only get louder as the campaign continues.