As I write this, the results are not final, but it is evident that Mitt Romney will win the New Hampshire primary. Ron Paul will easily take second. Jon Huntsman is third. Gingrich and Santorum are essentially tied for fourth. Perry gets last.
The two winners tonight are clearly Romney and Paul. Huntsman certainly had a good showing, but it is hard to imagine him surging at this point, particularly with South Carolina being next.
The voters have somewhat soured on Gingrich and Santorum. Everyone is talking about who the anti-Romney will be, but it doesn't look like either one of them at this point. Ron Paul is truly the anti-Romney, both in principle and in politics. Gingrich and Santorum are just as much pro big government as Romney and the voters are starting to figure this out. They just have some small government rhetoric that Romney doesn't have.
Ron Paul is clearly the most likely person to challenge Romney at this point. South Carolina will determine a lot. Santorum, Gingrich, and Perry will be fighting it out just to stay alive.
The Paul campaign has basically said that they do not plan on spending a lot of money in Florida. I think this is a wise move. It lowers expectations there. Paul is not likely to win Florida and the size of the state does not make it worth it. He will focus on the smaller caucus states where he can win and also win significant numbers of delegates. He certainly has a great chance at taking Nevada and some of the midwestern states.
Everyone is wondering why Paul has not gone on the attack against Romney the way he has against many of the other candidates. I think one reason is, just as mentioned above, some of the other candidates pretend that they are these great fiscal conservatives and many people buy it. Paul is simply exposing them for what they are. When Romney talks about fiscal conservatism, nobody really believes him. He has the backing of the establishment and Paul probably figures that he can more easily persuade people who are falling for Gingrich or Santorum.
To put this in context, Ron Paul received less than 8% in New Hampshire 4 years ago. Paul and the entire libertarian movement have made great progress in such a short time span. We should continue to be optimistic about the long-term future for liberty in America.