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5 things we learned in the New Hampshire primary

So much for New Hampshire's reputation for surprises and bucking conventional wisdom. The Republican presidential race looks barely different than it did before Tuesday: Mitt Romney is a flawed front-runner marching toward the nomination while rivals splinter the anti-Romney vote. Still, the Granite State did teach us some things:

1 Romney will be very hard to stop. South Carolina once looked like a tough state for Romney, but now he's well-positioned to win thanks to a still-crowded field. If he goes three for three — Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina — the race could be all but decided by the Jan. 31 primary in Florida. He continues to suffer from an authenticity deficit and a knack for gaffes, but Romney's appeal is broadening. New Hampshire exit polls showed him winning among those looking for the strongest general election candidate across the ideological spectrum — moderates, conservatives, tea partiers.

2 Romney's fundamental premise is diminished. He's campaigning as a business whiz and problem-solver, but as the economy continues to improve and rivals attack him as a leveraged buyout vulture, his private-sector background may be as much a liability as an asset.

3 Ron Paul is more than a gadfly. It's hard to see how a candidate viewed as unacceptable by more than 4 in 10 Republicans wins the nomination. But after drawing more than 20 percent of the vote in Iowa and New Hampshire, Paul eschews his fringe candidate status.

4 Single-state strategies rarely work. Rudy Giuliani's failed 2008 "Florida! Florida! Florida!" campaign should have been a lesson. Rick Santorum had a strong Iowa showing after camping out there, but his social conservatism did little for him in New Hampshire. Jon Huntsman staked it all in New Hampshire, but it's hard to see how his distant third-place finish does much, unless his billionaire father funds a massive campaign in South Carolina and Florida.

5 GOP excitement is missing. Polls consistently show Republicans more energized than Democrats this election cycle, but in rally after rally in New Hampshire it was striking how little enthusiasm the crowds showed. One in three New Hampshire voters said they would be dissatisfied with Romney as the nominee and one in three said they would like to see someone else run. There's little doubt Republicans will turn out to beat President Barack Obama, but it's an open question whether likely nominee Romney can motivate an army of volunteers to mobilize every last vote.

5 things we learned in the New Hampshire primary 01/11/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 11, 2012 7:26pm]
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