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01/09/2012

NH: The Santorum slip

by Jeremy Hooper

The common wisdom of the day -- of this day, at least -- is that Santorum, once surging in and out of Iowa, is now slipping in New Hampshire, with the "I'll invalidate marriages" candidate placing a distant fifth in the latest polls. Slipping, to our immediate interest, precisely *because* of his insistence on focusing on so-called social issues. Chief among those social issues: Rick's consistent slighting of LGBT people, our marriages, and our rights in the cruelest, crudest ways possible.

Now, when most pundits talks about this, they immediately move on to states like South Carolina. As in, "New Hampshire is more moderate so the Santorum rhetoric should play better in South Carolina." Something that might be true. Sad, if true -but possibly true.

However, back to our interest specifically: We can't just move on. The takeaways of this overplayed hand extend beyond the ongoing GOP primary process or even electoral politics in general. Personally I see two pertinent takeaways to be gleaned from the notion of a conservative candidate who rode into the Granite State on a wave, but who is his sinking under the weight of his own dark, discriminatory sea:

  1. New Hampshire itself. This is a state that is about to engage in a truly spiteful, wholly purposeless conversation about marriage, with a goal that would literally take away an in-place right. There is no public clamoring to return the state back to civil unions, and there is no demonstrated "reason" for doing so. It is a completely concocted "issue," designed to bring momentum to the socially conservative's national cause. They are using NH to send a message. To say, "Same-sex marriage is not inevitable anywhere, not even in liberal New Hampshire." It's a retributive cause that fits right inside the same Santorum playbook that is failing to connect with "Live Free or Die" Republicans. I would argue that the poor receipt of Santorum's attempts to exploit this "issue" run parallel to the NH public's prevailing feeling about the soon-to-happen repeal attempt.

  2. The National Organization For Marriage. That organization has been so outwardly in the tank for Santorum over the past week, one might assume they've been promised a new NOM Cabinet department. Their message throughout: That Santorum is "surging" in large part *because* he's so "good" on marriage. It's a message that makes sense from NOM's standpoint, since they want/need to stay viable in this game. However, it's a message that seems to be running counter to the one that NH GOP voters are sending back in response. To me, Santorum's dwindling NH poll numbers show that NOM, just like the organization's star candidate, is pulling focus off true concerns by drumming up these misplaced "culture wars." I would argue that the voters are clearly saying they want/expect/need better prioritization, if not better respect for LGBT rights.

Now again, it's totally possible that Santorum will go back up in other, more conservative states. Some national polling puts him as high as third among a highly undecided constituency. In some states, "culture warring" still manages to convince voters to overlook/go against their own pertinent interests. Unfortunately.

But regardless, I do think it's hard to look at NH and not see some lessons. Lessons for the state (and especially a state legislature) to consider in the coming weeks. Lessons for "man-on-dog"-espousing candidates who are feeling the tinges of a shifting electorate. Lessons for all of us as to why keeping focus on a candidate's extreme views is good for moving a public away from said candidate.

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