Jon Huntsman Jr. did OK in Tuesday’s New Hampshire Republican primary. A late surge of support carried his percentage of the vote into the double digits. He finished third, behind Mitt Romney and Ron Paul, and in a speech Tuesday night he tried hard to portray that result as evidence of a gathering storm of Huntsmentum.
But Mr. Huntsman in essence bet his whole race on the New Hampshire outcome, focusing all his time and dwindling cash on the Granite State. He finished a distant third, despite some hints in prevote polls that he might catch Representative Paul for second. Another Mormon ex-governor – Mr. Romney – was the night’s big winner. Is the Huntsman campaign toast?
A look inside the New Hampshire results shows that Huntsman’s future on the campaign trail may not be a bright one. The former Utah chief executive has stressed his electability on the stump, but he won only 9 percent of New Hampshire voters who said in exit polls that the ability to defeat President Obama was the top attribute they wanted in a Republican candidate. Romney got 62 percent of those votes.
Nor was he the choice of self-described moderates. Romney won the largest share of those voters, too, with Paul second. In fact, the only category of voters who went Huntsman on Tuesday was Democrats, who were able to vote in New Hampshire’s open primary. Huntsman took 41 percent of them. That’s not a base on which a winning run at the GOP nomination is built.
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Huntsman began his campaign hoping to be the establishment alternative to Romney, but Romney so far hasn’t stumbled and seems to have the Romney vote sewed up. Lately, Huntsman has toughened his rhetoric and shifted rightward, but that part of the field remains crowded. It seems unlikely that a patrician fan of Captain Beefheart is going to outmaneuver Rick Santorum and Rick Perry for the conservative vote.
“His boosters hope that [Huntsman’s] surprising third-place finish will help bring in some more financial support, but there’s still not much evidence he has a path to the nomination,” wrote Politico’s Maggie Haberman Wednesday morning.
Plus, Huntsmentum is about to hit a palmetto wall in the next primary state, South Carolina.
Where New Hampshire is quirky and libertarian, South Carolina is more evangelical and reliably conservative. Last time around, in 2008, only 18 percent of voters in the South Carolina GOP primary described themselves as independent. Almost 70 percent self-identified as conservative.
“South Carolina is essentially a non-starter for Jon Huntsman,” writes the Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin Wednesday on her conservative blog “Right Turn.”
The prediction market Intrade now puts Huntsman’s chances of winning the GOP presidential nomination at 1.9 percent. That’s ... very low. His personal wealth can keep Huntsman going, if he chooses to tap it. He could wait out a primary or two to see if Newt Gingrich’s and Rick Perry’s attacks on Romney as a heartless buy-out capitalist damage the front-runner. But right now he might be thinking as much about positioning himself for a possible run in 2016, if Mr. Obama wins reelection, as about the 2012 race.