If --and it's a big if -- Mitt Romney wins New Hampshire on Tuesday, I'm going to tell you now how it happened. (If it happened.)
It's those ornery Granite Staters. And I mean that lovingly. (As readers of this blog know, I love everybody -- but especially New Hampshirites.)
One thing they hate up there is outsiders (read: national media who don't know Bedford from Berlin) pontificating about what New Hampshirites are going to do. Like they know anything about us.
Four years ago, I was on Greater Boston with the late, great David Nyhan on the eve of the New Hampshire caucus. Dean's NH poll numbers had plummeted from over 30% pre-Iowa, to the high teens. Most people (myself included) assumed Dean would end up in the 15-18 range; Nyhan correctly predicted that Dean would get a backlash boost from New Hampshirites sick of hearing that they were not going to vote for Dean. Sure enough, he got 25%, temporarily saving his campaign.
In 1988, George H.W. Bush finished third in Iowa and seemed to be limping into New Hampshire, well behind Bob Dole in the polls. He won the state. In 2000, the media all but declared the race over after Bush dominated Iowa; suddenly every Republican in New Hampshire decided to stick it to them by voting for John McCain. And we all know what happened when the world wrote off Bill Clinton for dead in '92.
Well, now the media talk of the first 24 hours after the 2008 Iowa caucus has been pretty unrelentingly about how badly it hurt Romney, and how McCain is now likely to win New Hampshire because of it.
I was up in the great Granite State today, and there was something familiar about the buzz. It went something like: "Who the $@&#* are these people all over the TV and radio, and how &*@()# stupid do they think we are up here, that they keep saying we're all going to change our votes just because a few thousand bible-thumpers got down off their tractors long enough to vote for this clown Huckabee?"
It's just anecdotal, and it may not mean much in the end. Some of it came from diehard Romney supporters, who can be expected to feel that way. Some of it came from people who weren't and still aren't going to vote for Romney regardless. It may very well be a 24-hour bug.
Then again, if the initial post-Iowa polling in New Hampshire shows a Romney dip, as it likely will (McCain was already zipping past Romney as it was), we can expect the "Romney's dead" chorus to increase from the punditocracy. And that might get those ornery New Hampshire spines out of joint. Still a big if, but worth watching.