New Hampshire is by nature contrary in politics. George W. Bush and Barack Obama were sure they would win the state this century, and lost. Heck, I recall that Gary Hart whipped Walter Mondale there in 1984. Romney’s going to win, but it’s hard to guess by how much. The best guess is between five and 20 points (and I have a hunch it’s closer to 5). The more intriguing guess is second place.
Jon Huntsman could finish anywhere from second to fifth place. Ron Paul has been a constant second in the polls; will he stay there, or as is his wont, lose steam and finish third or fourth? Will Newt Gingrich’s angry roar propel him to second, or drop him to fifth? How will Rick Santorum finish? Base conservatives who do well in Iowa often falter in N.H. He’s another second- to fifth-placer. (The on-life-support Rick Perry is basically skipping the state and dreams of rebounding in South Carolina.)
If any non-Paul or non-Huntsman conservative is going to challenge Romney, two of these three — Santorum, Perry or Gingrich, need to bail. I’m guessing at least two won’t bail, Huntsman eventually gets out and Romney’s eventual main opponent is Paul, which guarantees Mitt’s nomination. For a N.H. prediction worth less than a penny, after Romney finishes Paul, then Huntsman, then Santorum, then Gingrich, followed by Perry. … If Paul fades again, he’s burnt me for a second week.