Patchwork Nation Gives New Hampshire GOP Primary Analysis

The project director of Patchwork Nation delves into the New Hampshire primary and what it means for the remainder of the 2012 presidential race.

Mitt Romney cruised to his second consecutive victory in the GOP presidential race Tuesday, winning by a huge margin in the New Hampshire primary. With 69 percent of precincts reporting, the former Massachusetts governor had earned 38 percent of the vote, according to the Associated Press, and the news agency noted that he is the first non-incumbent GOP nominate to win in both Iowa and New Hampshire.

Texas Rep. Ron Paul took second place at 24 percent, another strong showing after a third-place finish in Iowa. Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman finished third with 17 percent after earning a good deal of media attention for the amount of time and money he invested in New Hampshire. Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who was second in Iowa, and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich rounded out the major vote-getters with 10 percent.

Last week, I spoke with Dante Chinni, project director for Patchwork Nation, a project by The Christian Science Monitor, WNYC, Politico and PBS NewsHour that analyzes the votes by geography and various demographics, about the results in Iowa. After a very different set of results in New Hampshire, I caught up with Chinni again to analyze what the New Hampshire win means for Romney and the rest of the Republican field and looked ahead to the upcoming primaries in South Carolina and Florida. A full demographic breakdown from Patchwork Nation of the New Hampshire results can be found here. Chinni's answers have been edited and condensed for clarity.

Governing: Several analysts noted that Romney is the first non-incumbent GOP presidential candidate to win both Iowa and New Hampshire. And there has always been a sense of inevitability among some experts about his eventual candidacy. Do you see that trend continuing? What needs to happen in South Carolina and Florida to either stay or reverse the course?

Dante Chinni: At this point something pretty dramatic would have to happen to derail Romney. It's all speculation, of course, but he'd probably have to lose South Carolina and then maybe barely win Florida, with the guy who beat him in South Carolina really pushing him there. And even then, it's not clear what that would do to the race. Nevada, which holds its primary on February 4, has a good number of Mormons and should be good territory for Romney.

What about the make-up of New Hampshire's electorate led to Romney's resounding victory there after an extremely thin win in Iowa?

Chinni: Essentially the demographics of New Hampshire were excellent for Romney as viewed through our breakdown. More than 60 percent of the state's population lives in counties we call the Monied Burbs, higher than average household incomes and education levels, and that looks like it is Romney's sweet spot. He won the vote from those counties in Iowa and has raised most of his money from those counties overall. In fact, his fundraising footprint looks different from all the other GOP contenders. Add in the fact that he was governor of neighboring Massachusetts and that he has a residence in New Hampshire and you could see a big win coming for him. It's just a very different set of communities than Iowa.

With two sets of state data to analyze, what demographics should be comforting or disconcerting for Romney, looking ahead to both the remainder of the primaries and perhaps the general election?

Chinni: I maintain that Romney's best news out of Tuesday was how well he did in the Monied Burbs. He won 43 percent of the vote in those four counties. that's better than he or John McCain did in 2008 and his next closest rival was Ron Paul, who won 22 percent of the vote in the Burbs. That's a real thrashing and it shows Romney is the best candidate for the GOP to go after President Obama. Obama won the Burbs by double-digits in 2008 and any GOP challenger who wants to win in November has to do a lot better there.

However, this Bain dust-up is really interesting and it could hit Romney in the Service Worker Center counties. He won only 32 percent of the vote in those places in New Hampshire. Those counties are less well-off than others and they are the kind of place where the Bain/populist attacks could do damage. There are also a lot of Service Worker Centers in the swing Great Lakes states -- like Wisconsin, Ohio and Michigan. That could be critical in a general election match-up.

Much was made of Jon Huntsman's supposed surge before Tuesday because he spent most of his campaign time in New Hampshire, and it is generally considered a more moderate state. Should we expect more from him after a third-place finish?

Chinni: More from him meaning he'll carry on, yes. But he almost certainly won't do well in South Carolina. The county types there are not his territory. So then he goes to Florida, which should be better for him, but Romney has so much more money and momentum and they are in essence, I think, playing for the same voters. The road gets very tough for him now. I'm not even sure how much second place in New Hampshire would have helped.

Ron Paul has had the strongest consecutive showings aside from Romney, and he essentially suggested last night that the other candidates drop out and support him in opposition to Romney. There has been a lot of talk about his strength with young voters as well. Does Paul's demographic support give him a shot at pulling an eventual upset? What would it take?

Chinni: It would take a lot. If the criticism of Romney is "he has a ceiling" to his vote, that's probably twice as true for Ron Paul. Paul likes to say he is a revolutionary -- that's certainly the way he presents himself. Well, those kinds of candidates usually don't win the nomination. He is about fighting for his message.

Funny story, I was at the Ron Paul post-debate party in Manchester on Saturday night. There was a band who played a cover of Pink Floyd's "Another Brick in the Wall" with the words "All in all we should have voted for Ron Paul." It was a fun, loud and happily inebriated crowd, but not the kind of crowd that carries the nomination of either party, especially the GOP. Paul does well in those collegiate Campus and Career counties and with young people in other places.

What will you be watching for in South Carolina and Florida?

Chinni: For me there are a few things. First, can Romney do well in those socially conservative [Patchwork Nation demographic categories] Minority Central and Evangelical Epicenter counties in South Carolina? If he does that would show you support is really consolidating behind Romney and we'll be effectively done with the primary process very soon. Second, can the anti-Romney vote consolidate behind one opponent? Time is running out for that and if one doesn't emerge from South Carolina, it's pretty late in the game.

Florida is a big, sprawling, diverse state -- 10 of Patchwork Nation's 12 county types are represented there -- and if most of Romney's New Hampshire opponents are all still in the game, the vote will be split again. And third, a big issue steps onto the stage in Florida: the foreclosure mess. It'll be interesting to see how voters in places hit hard by foreclosures respond to the remaining field.

Dylan Scott is a GOVERNING staff writer.