MANCHESTER, N.H. — On Sunday morning, if you read the paper or watched
television, to check in on the GOP 2012 nomination battle, you would
have heard that none of former Gov. Mitt Romney's rivals attacked him at
the ABC News debate on Saturday night, that he would walk to the
nomination, that the Rick Santorum surge was ebbing, and that former
Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman made a fool of himself by speaking Mandarin at a
John Podhoretz wrote in the New York Post Saturday night that it was over. "That's a wrap. I'm calling this thing. Unless something terrible comes out about him in the next few weeks, Mitt Romney will be the Republican nominee."
But a few hours are a lifetime in politics, or in this race anyway. After stopping all of his rivals, one after another — even Santorum in New Hampshire — Romney has hit a bump that could knock him off his stride and careening suddenly downhill. If you are on Team Romney, Tuesday's New Hampshire primary can't come soon enough.
After finally breaking 40 percent in at least some polls, Romney has now dropped 10 points in the last 10 days in polls here in New Hampshire. Huntsman, who has banked on a New Hampshire-or-bust campaign strategy, is finally seeing the fruits and has now propelled himself to 13 percent in the daily tracking poll conducted by Suffolk University. Should Huntsman creep up on Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), who is in a solid second place at 20 percent, he will be the big story coming out of New Hampshire — because here, thanks to Paul, third place is the new second place. The Santorum surge, only days old, has come to a halt in the Live Free or Die state, but any votes Romney loses could also move to Santorum at the last minute.
After Romney's rivals finally mustered the nerve to attack him at the NBC/Facebook debate on Sunday morning, the previously unflappable Romney is now suddenly unnerved. At the first event he held after the debate Sunday, he made a potentially game-changing gaffe. "I know what it's like to worry whether you're gonna get fired," he inexplicably said. "There were a couple of times when I wondered whether I was going to get a pink slip."
Rivals pounced Monday morning, as news broke that a pro-Gingrich super-PAC will release a short documentary on Romney's job-destroying record at Bain. The gripping testimonials will air all over South Carolina, and the Democratic National Committee is drooling.
But Gingrich remains sunny on the trail. On Monday afternoon he spoke to employees of BAE Systems in Nashua, telling Ronald Reagan anecdotes, taking credit for helping design Reagan's 1980 campaign, taking questions and urging people to support him. "This election is wide open," he said.
Later, Huntsman, stuffed into the back of a bakery in Nashua late Monday, said New Hampshire always goes for the underdog, and it will again on primary night. Outside his event Paul supporters waved their signs, hoping to bring Huntsman samplers over to the revolution, fearing independents could break for Huntsman. Those sampling Paul may have been let down Monday morning by his event in Manchester — Paul showed up, shook hands and left minutes later without making remarks. In the old days of the revolution Paul events went on a long time, but the old days are gone, now that Paul is a force to be reckoned with. But even that may not last, because in the race of 2012, things change quickly.
CAN ROMNEY HOLD ON AND WIN IN SOUTH CAROLINA? Ask A.B. returns Thursday, Jan. 12. Please join my weekly video Q&A by sending your questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you.