It may have been the win Mitt Romney wanted, andmore of a win than Jon Hunstman expected. It mayor may not tell us much about the future of theRepublican race. But, in the end, the results inthe New Hampshire primary raise serious questionsabout where Latinos stand with the GOP.
Tuesday's final tally fell in place pretty much aseveryone expected.
Romney's steamroller rolled over the field. Nosurprise there. (Maybe a little one: His marginwas so wide, so early, the cable news channelsdeclared him the winner less than an hour afterthe polls closed, with barely 18 percent of theprecincts reporting.)
Paul came in second. No surprise there.
The only surprise may have been Jon Huntsman. Butc'mon, all those weeks of dedicating his entirecampaign to New Hampshire should get him some kindof ribbon. At least at the state fair.
But third may be as high as he ever gets.
And Newt Gingrich, the only candidate reaching outto Hispanics, wound up - if you're kind - in thecellar. If you're not, it's the gutter. Eitherway, he was so far out of it, it didn't matter.
It might matter to Latinos, though.
Gingrich boldly suggested a "compassionate"approach to the touchy immigration issue. And, sofar, he's the only Republican candidate with anofficial website in Spanish.
Romney, to the contrary, promises that if he'selected president, he'd veto the DREAM Act. Thatspeaks volumes to the nine out of 10 Latinos whosupport the measure that would grant citizenshipto the children of illegal immigrants who completetwo years of college or military service.
He also takes a hard line on immigration, as doPaul, and Rick Santorum, which puts them at oddswith most Hispanics.
"The party generally has not positioned itself todo very well with Hispanic voters," saidUniversity of Iowa political analyst Dr. SteffenSchmidt. "This is a very serious problem for thecandidates because they are abandoning a groupthat is pretty important for them."
Republican Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart ofFlorida, however, said the key issue in thiselection is not immigration. It's jobs.
"As high as the unemployment is and it has been,"he said, "it is higher for Hispanics. And theunderemployment, which is one of those numbers youcan't always put a finger on. So Hispanics havebeen really, really affected by what I think aredisastrous policies of this administration. And Ithink that is going to be the overriding issueduring this election."
He may be right. In a recent Pew Hispanic Centersurvey, Latinos ranked jobs as the No. 1 issue inthe election.
Any way you slice it, Tuesday's vote was a prettyimpressive victory for Romney. He is the firstnon-incumbent Republican in history to win bothIowa and New Hampshire. Andwith returns puttinghim a solid 15 points over his closest competitormost of the night, it gives the Massachusettsgovernor much needed momentum heading into thetough battlefield of South Carolina.
"Tonight, we made history," Romney told a crowd ofcheering supporters.
With 95 percent of the precincts counted at 2 a.m.New Hampshire time, he stood at 39 percent,followed by Paul with 23 percent, and Huntsman at17 percent. Texas Gov. Rick Perry metexpectations, with 1 percent.
The only cliffhanger was the duel between Gingrichand Santorum, whose solid socially conservativepositions propelled him to a stunningly closesecond place finish in Iowa.
Trailing far behind the three leaders, the twotraded fourth and fifth place throughout thenight, with around 9 percent of the vote.
Regardless of their rankings, all the candidatesvowed to continue on to South Carolina, the nextprimary and, as they like to say there, the "Firstin the South." That may provide more tea leavesfor Hispanics to read about how candidates willaddress them.
And there were signs Tuesday that the focus of therace is going right where Diaz-Balart says itshould.
"This is step two of a long process," Gingrichtold a crowd of supporters as the results came in."We have an opportunity, I think, to unify thecountry around a message of jobs, economic growthand very dramatic change."