Tomorrow, New Hampshire voters will go to their first-in-the-nation (don't-mention-Iowa-to-us-that's-a-caucus-dammit!) primary, and cast their votes in the Republican nominating contest. Which means it's time to haul out the old crystal ball and attempt to predict what's going to happen. If you hate these types of speculative wonktastic articles, then I strongly advise you to just close this article right now, and start a game of Angry Birds or something.
For the rest of you, I must first begin by reviewing how much my record stinks so far this year. As always, I believe political prognosticators are no different that the guys who predict sports in the media, and so I scrupulously report on my own stats as a predictor of political outcomes. And, as previously mentioned, I'm just not doing that good a job. In Iowa, I had the list as: Paul, Santorum, Romney (in that order). Eight votes separated me from total loss, and getting second right while switching first and third is really nothing to brag about anyway. Which brings our stats, so far, to:
Total correct 2012 primary picks so far: 1 for 3 -- 33%.
Nothing to write home about, as I said. But we're looking for our luck to change this week, because New Hampshire seems easier to call than Iowa turned out to be.
Mitt Romney not only served his governorship right next door to the "Live Free Or Die" state, he also owns a vacation home there as well. He has long been the favorite here, and I don't see any of that changing in the next 24 hours or so.
The real battle, of course, is going to be for second and third place. But before we get to that, we have to take an overview of how the whole race is shaping up at this point. Because it seems more and more likely that this is going to be an awfully short primary season this year, with Mitt waltzing away with the nomination.
Mitt won Iowa (OK, they're still possibly counting votes, and he may technically have come in second, but whatever...). Mitt is going to win New Hampshire. Surprisingly, though, Mitt is now polling strongly in first place in South Carolina (of all places). The race to become the prime challenger to Mitt is divided between Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich (at least in the Palmetto state, right now). Because the anti-Mitt vote is still split, Newt and Rick may wind up denying each other any clear shot at taking Mitt down before his momentum becomes unstoppable.
If Romney wins New Hampshire, and then goes on to win South Carolina and Florida, the race may be all but over at that point. Sure, Mitt won't have a winning number of delegates, and sure, the Republican Party is experimenting with proportional delegates and all of that; but realistically, there may not be a viable contender for Romney at this point. And by "viable" I mean both "has the money to continue the race" and also "has a prayer of winning the nomination."
In other words, we may not even have to wait for Super Tuesday for Mitt to be anointed the winner. Which would be a shame, because we do love writing these prediction columns. And while we are fully aware that nothing will likely ever compare to the 2008 Hillary/Obama slugfest in terms of sheer entertainment value, we had hoped to still be making predictions up to Super Tuesday, at the very least.
Selfish considerations aside, though, let's get back to the New Hampshire race. I had been thinking about writing this column last night, and had come up with my pick for third place, which I considered slightly bold. Today, however, I woke up and found that the polling actually agrees with my choice, so my choices have to be seen as the most conventional of picks this time around -- Ron Paul will win second place, and Jon Huntsman will come in third. Paul has an edge on the rest of the non-Mitt pack, so predicting second for him isn't that controversial (even though his poll numbers have slid a tiny bit in the last few days).
Third place was the tough one. Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, and Jon Huntsman were all essentially tied in the polls this weekend. With today's polls taken into consideration, Gingrich and Santorum seemed to be sliding a bit, and Huntsman ever-so-slightly rising -- once again, making Huntsman the seemingly-safe pick here.
Although we don't count them in the stats, I'll further predict that the rest of the field will fall into line as: Santorum, Gingrich, Perry. Santorum and Gingrich will be close, and will also be close to Huntsman's final numbers, but Perry will be far, far behind.
Another gratuitous prediction: Jon Huntsman will announce he's dropping out of the race soon after the New Hampshire results are finalized. Huntsman seems smart enough to realize he doesn't have a chance of winning the nomination, and he'll be able to drop out on a high point (for him) with a third-place finish. Perry and Gingrich, however, will remain in the race at least until after South Carolina. And Ron Paul is in it for the long haul, no matter what.
After a dismal 1-for-3 showing so far (which was almost a disgraceful 0-for-3), I'm going conventional with my New Hampshire predictions: Romney, Paul, Huntsman, followed by Santorum, Gingrich, and Perry.
Those are my picks, what are yours?
[Previous states' picks:] [Iowa]
-- Chris Weigant
Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant