Onward, Jon Huntsman!
[Crossposted at Margin of Σrror]
Just a few moments ago, Jon Huntsman announced that he had secured the Boston Globe’s endorsement. Given that Huntsman has tried to turn New Hampshire into his firewall for the nomination, he must have a new spring in his step tonight. How have his chances changed, though? Probably not much.
Huntsman is trending in the wrong direction. In the past few days, Huntsman’s poll numbers have been dropping, not rising as one would expect as the race tightens. Consider the following graph from Charles Franklin at Polls and Votes:
Could the Boston Globe endorsement change the Huntsman momentum in the positive direction? Sure. The Globe endorsed John McCain in 2008 at a time when Mitt Romney dominated the polls. After the endorsement, however, McCain rises precipitously in surveys and eventually wins the primary.
We must be cautious, however, in drawing too close a comparison. Consider, first, that the Globe endorsement came much earlier in the race, giving McCain three weeks to overtake Romney. Second, McCain had a history with New Hampshire, having won the primary in 2000. Third, McCain was already trending upward at the time of the endorsement. Fourth, Romney had spent a lot of time and money in Iowa, and was greatly weakened when he lost to Mike Huckabee.
Huntsman faces a much more daunting challenge. The former Utah governor needs to turn his polls around quickly and with little cash on hand. He also needs to break through the media narrative of Santorum’s surge and Romney’s intractable strength. While the Globe’s endorsement doesn’t hurt Huntsman’s chances, I can’t see a scenario where it helps him enough to make much of a difference.
What would a bump look like, if it comes? Given similarities in the profiles of Romney and Huntsman, a bump in Huntsman’s numbers would probably need to come at Romney’s expense, which seems unlikely. My colleague Harry Enten pointed out earlier today that Romney voters are not fickle. As Harry argued, Romney leads the field “with 59% of the vote among those in the latest Suffolk Poll who said they were unlikely to change their mind or were sure about their voting choice.”
Perhaps Huntsman can build a coalition amongst undecided voters. The latest Suffolk Poll shows that 17 percent of respondents are undecided, and 57 percent of those are liberal-to-moderate. If Huntsman wins over all of those voters, with the help of the Globe’s endorsement, Huntsman could add almost 10 percent to his current showing of about 7 percent. In that rosy scenario, Huntsman would still only pull about 17 percent of the vote, still possibly insufficient to top Ron Paul (FiveThirtyEight projects Paul to take 24 percent), much less Romney (43 percent). And that ignores the fact that Huntsman is really in a second-tier tussle with Santorum and Gingrich; if one of these guys manages to come close to Huntsman, it dampens the upside of Huntsman beating expectations.
Even if Huntsman bounces up to second place, it’s hard to see how he translates that into momentum beyond the Granite State. Huntsman will not play well in South Carolina and probably not in Florida, meaning that a still-weak Huntsman would need to hold out until early February and hope for a big showing in Nevada and Maine.
It’s not impossible that Huntsman could still make a sizable impact on the nominating process. But if anything is going to stop Romney, it seems like it will be a conservative alternative, not a moderate Romney look-a-like who, in the best scenario, will take second in New Hampshire.