Will an Open Primary Sink Romney in New Hampshire?

Mitt Romney currently maintains a long-standing lead in New Hampshire, according to the Real Clear Politics polling average, 17 point ahead of Newt Gingrich and 18 points to Ron Paul. This is not surprising, as Romney has lived in New Hampshire for the last four years. At this time in the 2008, campaign Romney similarly had a lead, although not as pronounced, and went on to lose to John McCain 38%-32%. Could a similar upset be awaiting Romney in this cycle as well?

New Hampshire is the first of 21 open caucus or primary states in this Republican election cycle; meaning you do not have to be a registered Republican in order to vote in the primary. Thus, the swell of votes from independents, which make up 42% of state voters, can turn the tide for a lackluster campaign in New Hampshire.

In 2008, more than 520,000 people cast their ballot in either the Democrat or Republican primary. More than 210,000 of those votes were by independents. It was, in fact, independents who secured a victory for John McCain; McCain received a smaller share of Republican votes than Mitt Romney. Independent voters overwhelmingly supported John McCain to Mitt Romney (40% to 27%) and Barack Obama to Hillary Clinton (41% to 31%). Barack Obama only lost the New Hampshire primary by 2.5%.

According to Public Policy Polling, 14% of the voters in the 2012 Republican primary voted in the Democrat primary in 2008. If these were independents who just decided to switch sides and did not include Democrats who switched parties, it would translate into nearly 18,000 votes or roughly 8% of 2008 Republican primary total. Though single digits very rarely seem to make a difference, the results could be astounding. 8% in the 2008 primary could have secured Mitt Romney a victory in New Hampshire and possibly the nomination.

Even though the estimates say 18,000, it could very well be much higher, seeing as there is no competitive Democrat primary this cycle. Say 25,000 independents who voted in the 2008 Democrat primary vote in the Republican primary this time around; it could make a second-tier candidate wildly outpace current polling. Many of the independent-leaning Democrats, a plurality of which voted for the candidacy of “Hope and Change” last time around, have become disappointed with President Obama. It is very easy to see many of these disenchanted voters looking to support anti-war libertarian Ron Paul or self-professed moderate Jon Huntsman. Both candidates are in the double digits with 18% and 11% respectively.

This is so plausible, in fact, that Huntsman has banked his entire campaign around New Hampshire Independents. The Governor has repackaged himself as the moderate Republican, this despite a fairly conservative record as Governor of Utah. He is openly pro-gay civil unions, critical on the war in Afghanistan, and a believer in man-made global warming. According to the Associated Press, an independent Super PAC has spent $1.2 million in order to sway independent voters away from Romney and towards Huntsman. Huntsman has spent considerable man power as well reaching over to these critical independents.

Regardless if Huntsman is able to sway New Hampshire voters into supporting him, turnout on election day will be very high (save a blizzard). New Hampshire voters are angry; 51% disapprove of the job President Obama is doing, according to Gallup–this despite New Hampshire having a fairly low unemployment rate.

Independents provided McCain with a victory in 2008 over Romney, despite his spending millions and being the former Governor of the neighboring state. If there is a high independent turnout this time around again, Mitt’s dreams of being president may very well be buried in the snowy hills of New Hampshire.

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