The celebration for Mitt Romney here at Southern New Hampshire University is a quick affair. Roughly forty minutes after the last polls closed and the major TV networks had called the New Hampshire primary, Romney is wrapping up his victory speech. Supporters are filing out. Campaign surrogates are milling about to talk to reporters. The party is practically over.
“Tonight, we celebrate,” Romney had told the packed room. “Tomorrow, we go back to work.”
That “full speed ahead” sentiment permeates the campaign. Spokesman Ryan Williams calls New Hampshire a “solid win” for Romney and says it gives the campaign “momentum and energy” going into South Carolina.
Even so, the Romney camp downplays expectations for the Palmetto State’s primary on January 21. “There are no expectations,” says John H. Sununu, the former New Hampshire governor and a senior adviser to the campaign. “You go and do your best. You hope to win. But if you start playing expectations in this race, you talk yourself into thinking you’re better than you are. You do it one state at a time.”
“It’s a state that we came in fourth in last time,” says Williams. “We didn’t do well in 2008. We’re going to be competitive in South Carolina.”
Even so, Romney is leading in the polls in South Carolina, up nearly 11 points over Rick Santorum and 12 over Newt Gingrich. And privately, folks in Romney’s circle see the primary election effectively in the bag.
That hasn’t stopped the campaign from pushing back against attacks from some of his GOP rivals, Gingrich in particular, on Romney’s business experience with Bain Capital.
“If Gingrich wants to use that attack, then maybe he ought to run in the Democratic primary,” Sununu says. “You know, what it really shows me is that Gingrich and [Rick] Perry are really forgetting that they have any philosophical roots at all. It’s really a shame that under pressure, they’ve collapsed on principle. I’m surprised at Governor Perry. I’m not surprised at the self-serving nature of Newt Gingrich.”
In his speech, Romney stresses the same point, without naming names.
“President Obama wants to put free enterprise on trial. In the last few days, we have seen some desperate Republicans join forces with him,” Romney says. “This is such a mistake for our party and for our nation. This country already has a leader who divides us with the bitter politics of envy. We must offer an alternative vision.”