In tonight's primary, it's not a question of ifMitt Romney wins, it's by how much. Unless all thepolls have gone completely haywire, the formerMassachusetts governor is expected to be the clearwinner, dwarfing theother contenders' results.Polls show him winning by 15, 20, or even morepoints over the next closest contender.
The real race is for second place. That's the oneHispanics need to watch.
There are almost no Latinos voting in snow whiteNew Hampshire, but who wins second, and by howmuch, will tell us a lot about where the GOPstands on immigration, the DREAM Act and otherissues important to Latinos.
Can Ron Paul repeat his Iowa surprise? Can RickSantorum?
The latest 7 News/Suffolk University poll oflikely voters released Tuesday showed Romneyslipping, but still far ahead of numero dos, RonPaul. The standings: 37 percent for Romney, downfrom a high of 43 percent last week. Paul came inat 18 percent.
After that came: The Race.
The candidates come into the primary fresh off aweekend of nearly back-to-back bare-knuckledebates. Neither immigration nor the DREAM Actplayed a part in either one, and the only languageother than English that came up was a bit ofChinese thrown at Romney by Huntsman, the formerU.S. ambassador to that country.
But there's still much to be read in the polls.Perhaps most important was Newt Gingrich'sdownward slide. By Tuesday morning, SuffolkUniversity's latest had him sagging like a week-old party balloon, to 9 percent. It could be areaction to his sparring with Romney during thedebates, but it bodes poorly for Hispanics.
Gingrich is the only one seriously courting loslatinos. He took a beating in December afterproposing that long-term illegal immigrants withdeep ties in their community should not bedeported. Defending and clarifying that positiontied up his campaign message for days. Whetherit's a coincidence or a correlation may never beknown, but in the first real test before votersafter that, the Iowa caucus, he tanked.
Sunday, he made headlines with what WashingtonPost reporter Rosalind S. Helderman noted was an"unusual campaign stop" -- a town hall meetingwith Hispanic voters at a Mexican restaurant inManchester, N.H., accompanied by the state's firstLatino elected official, state Rep. CarlosGonzalez."We particularly wanted to reach out to theLatino community, but also frankly, to all ethniccommunities," Helderman quoted Gingrich as saying."It's very important for us to make a case that weare in favor of many people, from many places,having the opportunity to become Americans--thatthis is truly a land of opportunity."
Maybe. But no matter how thick he lays on the tacosauce, it won't make New Hampshire a land ofopportunity for Newt. Hispanics make up less than2 percent of the state's voters. (There may evenbe a bit of literary symbolism in the name of therestaurant where Gingrich held the town hall, DonQuijote restaurant, and his "tilting at windmills"in New Hampshire.)
Huntsman's numbers showed an opposite trend. Hisweeks of campaigning almost exclusively in NewHampshire, and what many viewed as a strongshowing in Sunday morning's debate, sent hisratings ticking upward. Tuesday morning's Suffolkpoll actually showed the former Utah governorbreaking into the double digits, at an impressive16 percent -- pretty much nosebleed territory forhis campaign thus far.
Largely ignored before that, Huntsman's moderatestand on immigration was seen as one of the thingsweighing him down with Republican voters. Hesupports a path to citizenship for illegalimmigrants already here and, as governor of Utah,signed into a law a bill giving undocumentedimmigrants "driving-privilege cards."
Hardly anyone, though, expects his cash-poor andtrailing campaign to last long beyond NewHampshire.
So, too, Rick Perry. He may have shot himself withother gaffs, and he pretty much skipped NewHampshire to focus on South Carolina, but hiscampaign is practically on life support. Mostcampaign watchers expected him to pull the plugafter racking up a paltry sixth place showing inIowa. And current polls put him at just 1 percentin New Hampshire.
He's the last of the pack, though, on the moderateside of the immigration debate, a defender of in-state tuition for the children of illegalimmigrants.
But the polls -- and the results from NewHampshire -- shows that Republican voters aregiving their love to the hard-liners.
"It has become very easy to scapegoat the Latinoas the core source of a lot of our problems," saidVoto Latino Executive Director Maria Teresa Kumar.
That, though, puts them at odds with the majorityof Hispanics, and with the majority of the nation,according to several surveys.And said, Kumar, the Republicans are missing anopportunity.
"The Democratic Party hasn't been exactly strongon the Latino vote," she said. "One party isbeating up on the Latino community and the otherparty is saying, 'Where else are they going togo?' And my response to that is, 'They don't haveto go anywhere. They just stay home.'"