The Big Conversation:
A surprise-free night in New Hampshire has set the Republican presidential field up for a potentially fiery battle in South Carolina.
As expected, Mitt Romney handily won the state's primary Tuesday night, with 39 percent of the vote. Ron Paul took second, with 23 percent, and Jon Huntsman, who staked his campaign on the state and finally saw his poll numbers begin to rise in the last two weeks, finished third, with 17 percent.
With Romney — the first non-incumbent Republican candidate since 1976 to win both the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary — having solidified his front-runner status, the race now moves to South Carolina, where the other Republicans in the field hope a more conservative, evangelical electorate will allow them to blunt Romney's momentum.
Several of the candidates and their supporters have already gone on the attack, blanketing the Palmetto State in millions of dollars worth of ads. The New York Times reported earlier this week that South Carolinians had already seen twice as many ads as voters in New Hampshire.
This week, according to National Journal, a Super PAC backing Newt Gingrich will spend more than $700,000 on airtime and has looked into purchasing 30-minute spots to air a film critical of Romney's business past. Paul will spend $237,000 this week, and Rick Santorum, who finished in fifth place Tuesday night, will spend $337,000.
Rick Perry, who skipped the New Hampshire primary and instead headed straight for South Carolina, where he's been hammering Romney, will spend $339,000 this week on airtime in a buy that includes a round of positive ads. Katon Dawson, Perry's chief South Carolina strategist, told National Journal the ads would help the governor stand out.
Perry finished in sixth place in New Hampshire, winning only half as many votes — about 1,700 — as "Other." Of Tuesday night's results, Perry said in a statement: "Tonight's results in New Hampshire show the race for 'conservative alternative' to Mitt Romney remains wide open. … South Carolina is the next stop. I have a head start here, and it's friendly territory for a Texas governor and veteran with solid outsider credentials; the nation's best record of job creation; and solid fiscal, social and tea party conservatism."
- As the Tribune's Ross Ramsey writes today, if the federal courts don't come up with political maps for Texas in the next three weeks, the state probably won't be able to hold primary elections on April 3. Because it takes at least two months to put a primary election together, another delay may be necessary, and that could prove especially tricky for the state's political parties, which by law must hold their conventions in June or July.
- Rick Perry on Tuesday went after Mitt Romney's track record at Bain Capital, the private equity firm he led before becoming governor of Massachusetts. But as the Tribune's Ryan Murphy reports, similar companies over the past 11 years have donated generously to Perry's gubernatorial campaigns.
- A panel of federal appellate judges on Tuesday authorized Texas officials to enforce its controversial abortion sonogram law while it faces a court challenge. In their opinion, the judges said the law's opponents "failed to demonstrate constitutional flaws" in the measure.
"I didn't know you were out there." — Ron Paul to a crowd of supporters Tuesday night in New Hampshire on finding a receptive audience for his message after decades of preaching
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