For Romney, Everything Falls Into Place

BY Dante Chinni  January 11, 2012 at 9:41 AM EDT

Mitt Romney had a lot of advantages going into New Hampshire — from residency to voter demographics — and in the end it all showed up on Tuesday night.

The former Massachusetts governor won nine of the state’s 10 counties. He won a larger percentage of the vote than he or Sen. John McCain won in 2008 — 39 percent to 37 percent for McCain. And using Patchwork Nation‘s demographic/geographic breakdown of counties, he won in all of the state’s county types, from the wealthy Monied Burbs to the small-town Service Worker Centers.

The meaning for the nominating process has already been hashed over and over. In winning both the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary, Romney has pulled off a trick no non-incumbent GOP presidential candidate has ever done in modern times. He looks well-prepared for the votes to come down the road in South Carolina and Florida this month and probably for the nomination.

But the potentially bigger message out of New Hampshire is Romney has firmly established himself as the candidate best able to take on President Barack Obama in the places that matter: the wealthy suburban areas. Those counties are where the 2012 election is likely going to be won or lost, and in Iowa and now New Hampshire Romney has shown they are his strength.

But after two straight wins, it may be that rank-and-file voters will start lining up behind Romney. And even if voters in South Carolina are opposed to him, the presidential field is so fragmented now, it’s hard to see any anti-Romney sentiment gathering force behind any one candidate. Tuesday night in New Hampshire, every major candidate pledged to go on.

There might have been one piece of not-so good news out of New Hampshire for Romney, in the form of the Bain Capital dust-up.

Former House speaker Newt Gingrich has begun to attack Romney over his time at the investment house, saying it amounted to working for a firm that killed jobs. And, of course, the Gingrich Super PAC’s much-discussed anti-Bain video is coming soon to a computer monitor near you. Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who essentially skipped New Hampshire, has been in South Carolina talking to voters and comparing Bain to a corporate “vulture.”

Will those attacks carry a lot of weight in South Carolina? Maybe not. South Carolina is a very conservative right-to-work state. But the populist argument against Bain and Romney may carry a lot more weight in states with a lot of unions and Service Worker Center counties — swing states like Ohio, Wisconsin and Michigan — in the general election. Take a look at the red counties on the map below:

Yes, we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Romney doesn’t have anything won yet. But South Carolina may offer a sneak preview of a key general election fight, and early indications are it could a donnybrook.