US Senator John McCain returned from the political dead in New Hampshire, scoring a big victory over the still-crowded GOP field. Mitt Romney — the major frontrunner in the Granite State for months — placed second, Mike Huckabee was third, and the rest of the GOP field lagged far behind the leaders. The numbers: McCain – 37%, Romney – 32%, Huckabee – 11%, Rudy Giuliani – 9%, Ron Paul – 8%, Fred Thompson – 1%. McCain clearly had his numbers inflated by the support of Independent voters, a category that will be shut out in nearly all of the upcoming contests.
Among Republican voters, McCain and Romney were virtually tied. Paul focused his extensive financial resources and time in NH, hoping for a surprise third place finish, but instead saw that his message was simply not resonating with GOP primary voters. McCain plans to immediately focus his efforts in Michigan, South Carolina and Florida. In a sign he expects his campaign to continue at least through January 29, McCain has dispatched former Reagan Deputy Political Director Laury Gay to Florida, and his campaign is already buying TV time in all three states. Romney is moving his fight to Michigan and Florida — with Michigan being a “must win” state for his campaign to survive. Based upon the election night speeches, the telegenic Romney looked and sounded more like a positive winner than did the tired-looking, older McCain.
Huckabee and Thompson, who did not expect to do well in NH, will both focus on South Carolina. Huckabee will also bring his hybrid economic populist/Evangelical social conservative message to Michigan and Florida. Giuliani will focus his upcoming efforts almost entirely on Florida, in advance of the February 5 mega-primaries.