01.11.2012 0

Has New Hampshire launched Ron Paul as the leading ‘Anti-Romney’ GOP candidate?

Ron PaulBy Adam Bitely — As attention turns away from New Hampshire to South Carolina, Ron Paul is on the move.

Not Rick Santorum. Nor Jon Huntsman.  But it is now Paul who stands in the best position to become the only candidate that can challenge Mitt Romney.  Paul consistently has had support in the double digits in each state that the GOP nomination contests have been held.

The results from New Hampshire show Ron Paul broke 20 percent of the vote for the second straight time, decisively winning second place. In Iowa, Paul finished strongly in third place with 21.4 percent of the vote behind Santorum and Mitt Romney who were virtually tied. And a recent poll shows Paul and Romney narrowly beating Obama nationally.

With another strong finish by Paul, a clear picture of who the leading “anti-Romney” candidate is may have emerged. And the rest of the “anyone-but-Romney” field will continue to seesaw back and forth in the upcoming contests.

Voters searching for a “conservative” alternative to Romney have been bouncing around for months with various candidates. From Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich and Santorum, it is becoming increasingly clear that Paul is the most organized and prepared candidate to oppose Romney in the long haul of the GOP nomination contests.

Santorum does not have a sustainable campaign operation in place. He will become the 2012 version of Mike Huckabee with his fifth place finish in New Hampshire leaving him to fight for the life of his campaign in South Carolina (click here for the most recent polling data) and possibly Florida (click here for the most recent polling data).

And since Huntsman had a decent showing in New Hampshire, easily dispatching Santorum and Gingrich, the political chattering class will now be focusing new attention “finding out” who Jon Huntsman is and creating the narrative that he is now a serious contender in the race. This could lead to a surge in support for the former Utah Governor that will further suck oxygen away from the campaigns of the other “anti-Romney” candidates, and perhaps Romney himself.

The possibility of a rising Huntsman, if only for a week, will be enough to further spread chaos in the “anti-Romney” field. Of course, Paul stands to benefit the most from this scenario, as his supporters are the most loyal of any of the GOP candidates, and he would stand to only gain supporters, not lose them, after a string of strong performances at the ballot box. Further, supporters of the other “anti-Romney” campaigns have been flighty, consistently changing the candidate that they support week-in and week-out. Paul has had a consistent level of support that has only grown and not faded.

As attention turns towards South Carolina, a whole new situation begins to develop.

Santorum, Gingrich and possibly Perry will be battling over who is the more conservative and “electable” candidate against Romney in South Carolina. The result will be a continued fracturing of conservative support divided amongst several candidates.

Florida will prove even more difficult for the “anti-Romney” field. Since the primary is a winner-take-all for the GOP delegates for the Republican National Convention, it will only matter if you finish in first place. Romney appears to have a strong lead there at the moment, and if it appears that he still does as the Florida primary approaches, it will seem foolish for other candidates to spend much time and resources in a state where the only thing they have to gain is generating some media hype. At that point in time, it will make more sense for campaigns to focus their attention to primaries and caucuses where the delegates are divided out proportional to the votes they receive.

And when it comes to proportional elections, Paul stands to gain more than the rest of the “anti-Romney” field. Because he is demonstrating a consistent double-digit base of support, he will always pick up delegates wherever he competes. Paul, like Romney, had a good ballot qualification program and will appear on more ballots than Gingrich, Santorum, Huntsman and Perry.  As a result, Paul will be able to compete in more states.

That is not to suggest that Ron Paul is the only candidate that is capable of stopping Mitt Romney from getting the GOP nomination, but Paul does have the most likely path to mount any type of serious challenge to Romney over the long term.

The odds may be long, but at the moment, Ron Paul, unlike the other “anti-Romney” candidates, appears to be the only candidate moving in the right direction.

Adam Bitely is the Editor-in-Chief of NetRightDaily.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @AdamBitely.

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