Now it gets interesting.
The 2012 battle shifts to South Carolina, where the air may be warmer than Manchester's...but the campaign climate's a whole lot chillier. This is the home of politics as blood sport - a sort of primary season Thunderdome. The CNN poll released Friday suggested Mitt Romney had climbed to a surprisingly strong first-place showing in the state: his 37% share of likely Republican primary voters was as much as Rick Santorum's and Newt Gingrich's combined. But with a $3+ million anti-Romney infomercial set to blanket the airwaves there for the next week-and-a-half – in a state most of the Anybody-But-Romney crowd is viewing as its Alamo – how secure is that lead?
Join Anderson Cooper Wednesday for a full rundown on the state of the race as the spotlight shifts to South Carolina. Tune in to AC360° at 8 and 10 p.m. ET Wednesday.
Reporter's Note: The Republican candidates are wrapping up in New Hampshire and steaming toward South Carolina, which is where I am waiting and writing today’s letter to the White House.
Dear Mr. President,
I am in the lovely city of Charleston, South Carolina, awaiting the results from the New Hampshire primary. It has been a nice day here that steadily sped up as the hours passed. Now we are closing in on the first returns and everything is buzzing.
I’m here for what we call a “dial test” group. That means pretty soon about 40 undecided Republican voters will join me here at our workspace at the College of Charleston. (And here is an aside; this is a beautiful school! The way it weaves through the old town, filling the streets, shops and restaurants with students; wonderful! I can easily see why so many kids are attracted here. But I digress…) These voters are going to watch the returns and the candidates’ speeches afterward with me (note to self: get chips!), and throughout the process they will have these remote control dialers in their hands. Each time they hear something they like, they will twist the nobs on the dialers up to show how they feel…and they’ll turn them down if they don’t like what they hear.
A team from Southern Methodist University will be monitoring the computers which will turn those dial turns into a display that will makes sense to the rest of us; i.e. a line on the TV screen that will rise and fall as the candidate speaks.
I’ve done this several times before and it is always interesting. There is something inherently fascinating instantly seeing what people think of someone or some idea, second to second.
Will it tell us who is going to win here when the South Carolina primary rolls around? No. Or at least we can’t bet on it. But it should give us some indication of which emotional and intellectual triggers the candidates will have to press to have a chance of winning.
Like I said, it is interesting to watch, and I’m sure you will be. When it is all over for the night, I will have a bit more work to do, but if you want to call afterward I’ll give you more details about what I heard and saw. You can tell me about what your pals in the White House thought of the NH results. What fun!
It's no surprise Massachusetts resident and 2008 primary candidate Mitt Romney had an advantage on the ground in New Hampshire: 38% of today's Republican primary voters say they were personally contacted by his campaign at some point. But who had the second-best ground game in New Hampshire? It's a toss-up between fellow 2008 candidate Ron Paul and Jon Huntsman, who essentially camped out in the state in the months leading up to today's vote.
The two relative latecomers to the race - Newt Gingrich (who didn't set up his New Hampshire campaign office until after Thanksgiving) and Rick Santorum (who didn't decide to make a real play for the state until last week) - both reached 10% of today's voters. Unsurprisingly, Rick Perry - who decided to skip serious campaigning in the state - reached just 1% of those who headed to the polls today.
So a lot of people have been looking past the New Hampshire primary, to the South Carolina cage fight that’s expected to follow. It’s easy to see why: Thanks in part to his semi-home field advantage as the former governor of the Granite State’s next door neighbor, Mitt Romney’s held a double-digit poll lead in every survey this cycle. Some people won’t even bother to take a look at the exit polls heading our way within the next two hours, because they think they know everything they need to about this race. They’ll dump the data-tracking to follow the "Storage Wars" marathon instead.
Those people will be missing out. Here’s why: No matter who comes out on top tonight (and at this point, I haven’t taken a peek at any numbers you haven’t, so trust me: I’m not giving anything away here), there are some unanswered questions heading into the next stage of the race that can’t be answered by the vote count alone. Questions like:
–Where do the late deciders land? Do they flock to the front-runner – or break for an underdog? That could be a clue where the momentum lies as the race heads south.
Anderson Cooper goes beyond the headlines to tell stories from many points of view, so you can make up your own mind about the news. Tune in weeknights at 8 and 10 ET on CNN.
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