Editor’s Note: This is a Reporter’s Notebook reflecting on the New Hampshire primary.
HAMPSTEAD, N.H., Jan. 9, 2012 — The Republican presidential contest has been littered with odd attacks: Mitt Romney has been confronted for being a moderate; Jon Huntsman criticized for working for the Obama administration.
In the minds of most GOP candidates, he who establishes himself as the consistent conservative in an effort to stand as a perfect contrast to the incumbent president wins.
Will this be an effective campaign strategy in New Hampshire, where independents and moderate Republicans often shake up the nation’s first primary?
Amy Walter, the political director at ABC, says that “moderate is not a popular word” among most GOP presidential candidates, and she contends that Republican primary voters are, by and large, a narrow band of conservative Americans.
While this is certainly true of the Iowa caucuses, it may be less so in New Hampshire, the second least religious state in the country, according to RealClearPolitics. Tuesday will tell whether candidates’ religious appeals have been a positive facet of overall campaign strategies.
Walter also cites the incumbent president, who will inevitably be the Democrat on the ballot in November 2012, as an impetus to more intense conservatism in early GOP primaries. Republican candidates are interested in distancing themselves from President Obama, convinced that he who runs farthest from the liberal, pro-welfare state ideology will come out on top in the Republican National Convention.
Curt Jacobson of Sarasota, Fla., who sells campaign buttons after Republican campaign events, says he has seen the ramifications of recent anti-incumbent sentiment in his business.
“Anything anti-incumbent goes fast,” he says, lending weight to the likely possibility that many 2012 voters are looking for a president who is not Barack Obama.
Are general election voters who are frustrated with or outright opposed to the Obama administration anxious to vote for his political polar opposite?
Or would a more moderate Mitt Romney or Jon Huntsman fare better than a Rick Santorum or a Newt Gingrich this November?
Only time will tell.