JUDY WOODRUFF: For more on the Republican race and how a high-level shakeup at the White House could affect the campaign, with us now are Susan Page of USA Today and Stuart Rothenberg of The Rothenberg Political Report.
It’s great to have you both back with us.
Stu, I’m going to start with you.
There is a lot of piling on it seems going on by these Republicans against Mitt Romney. How enduring is this? How much of a problem is this for the Romney camp?
STUART ROTHENBERG, The Rothenberg Political Report: Well, it’s not going to be just the next couple days, Judy. It will be over the next week two leading up to South Carolina and then Florida.
Look, it’s a problem. But when you’re the front-runner you have to accept that. If the polls are at all accurate, then former Gov. Romney has a lead, a substantial lead and the question is whether undecided voters break dramatically to one candidate which seems unlikely, but it goes with the territory when you’re the front-runner.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Susan, Newt Gingrich had seemed to have a disappointing finish in Iowa. But is he getting traction now with this argument against Romney which he’s just pushing and pushing at and running ads in South Carolina?
SUSAN PAGE, USA Today: Well, I don’t know if he’s getting traction with voters. He’s not doing very in the statewide New Hampshire surveys, but I don’t think we should expect him to stop doing it. It’s become kind of a grudge match.
You know, Newt Gingrich blames Mitt Romney and the super PAC that supports Mitt Romney for costing him the lead he had just a couple weeks ago in the Republican field. He’s now gotten some big contributions. He’s going to move on to South Carolina. He’s going to continue to follow this line of attack.
It may not cost Romney victory here or the nomination, but it certainly lays the groundwork for the criticism we’re going to hear from President Obama and the Democrats against Mitt Romney if he’s the nominee in the fall.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Stu, another criticism we heard of Mitt Romney was from Jon Huntsman, who had not been the factor that he is. He’s been campaigning in New Hampshire.
And in the debate over the weekend, he went after Romney when Romney criticized his service as President Clinton — President Obama’s ambassador to China. Is Huntsman going to get any traction from this?
STUART ROTHENBERG: Look, he has been spending all his time in New Hampshire while everyone else was in Iowa. Personal contact does matter in these races in small states. And I think the survey data suggests that he is moving up.
The question is, can he move up far enough and fast enough? And that really seems unlikely at this point. You know, a lot of consultants I talk to, Republicans, say that if Huntsman had started to try to position himself initially as a conservative alternative, kind of an establishment or Main Street conservative alternative to Romney, he might have a chance here.
But he started off really as a more liberal alternative. And there wasn’t much room at that point for Huntsman running against Romney. So we’ll see. He’s made some gains.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Susan, a quick question about Rick Santorum. He supposedly came out of Iowa with some momentum, just a few votes behind Mitt Romney. What’s happened to him in New Hampshire and where does he go from here?
SUSAN PAGE: He’s really struggled in New Hampshire.
The things that made him such a powerhouse in Iowa, his strength with social conservatives and with evangelical Christians, just doesn’t translate in a place like New Hampshire. This is the live free or die state, kind of a libertarian tradition on social conservatism. It’s a state where same-sex marriage is legal.
People in the audiences — in audiences for Rick Santorum events have really taken him to task in some cases for his stance on some of those issues. So there’s some second guessing now. Should Rick Santorum have skipped New Hampshire, gone straight to South Carolina, once again a state that has a lot of evangelical Christians, very conservative voters, friendlier territory? Has he squandered the boost that he got out of Iowa?
JUDY WOODRUFF: And just quickly, Stu, on Ron Paul, who did come in third in Iowa, supposedly has this enthusiastic following, but now we’re hearing he’s going to skip Florida. He’s just going to focus on caucus states?
STUART ROTHENBERG: Boy, Judy, that really makes you wonder whether this is a strategy to win the nomination or just to get enough delegates to cause the Republican Party problems when it meets at its national convention.
We understand that Florida is a large state, an expensive state. And he did poorly four years ago, getting about 3 percent of the primary vote. But if you want to be the nominee, you have got to compete in Florida.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Susan, I do want to ask you, finally, about the news today out of the White House, the president’s chief of staff, Bill Daley, leaving, being replaced by the OMB director, the budget director, Jack Lew.
What effect, if any — was this a surprise, number one? And what effect, if any, does this have on the campaign to come?
SUSAN PAGE: You know, the timing is a surprise, but the fact that Bill Daley is stepping down not a surprise. It’s been rumored for months. He had said in an interview that he would stay only through the reelection battle, obviously not staying that long.
You know, highly respected figure from one of the nation’s great political families, but he was never — he never turned out to be a really good fit in the chief of staff role. And his relations with Democrats in Congress were quite dreadful. You heard them cheering the news that Jack Lew, who started out as an aide to Tip O’Neill, was going to get that top job at the White House.
As to what it means for the reelection campaign, power is really centered at that Chicago headquarters and with David Plouffe, who is the deputy chief of staff. I think that this just means that Plouffe’s empire becomes even more totally his.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, the drama is not only on the Republican side today. It was also at the White House.
Susan Page in New Hampshire, Stuart Rothenberg, thank you both. And we’ll see you tomorrow, both of you.
STUART ROTHENBERG: Sure.
SUSAN PAGE: Hey, thanks, Judy.