Yesterday, I speculated that the traditional dynamic of the early states weeding out the also-ran candidates could be upended this cycle by the increased reliance on debates and super PACs. Last night, Mitt Romney won a resounding victory, yet no candidates are rushing to exit stage left this morning. In fact, all have packed up their bags to head south, either to South Carolina or Florida.
The exit polls from last night show that the debates mattered as much as any other factor for voters in New Hampshire—whom the candidates showered with a level of personal face time no upcoming state's voters will be granted. A full 84 percent said the debates played an "important" role in their vote yesterday, and 52 percent of all voters said it was a "very important" part of their decision-making process. Just half of the New Hampshirites who turned out said they had been contacted by one of the candidate's campaigns. Advertising, however, clearly helped shape the script; 72 percent in the exit poll said ads were a factor. I wouldn't be surprised if the actual influence of ads was higher and many voters just wanted to downplay how easily they can be swayed by a negative commercial.
In the new landscape, all that is required is for campaigns to maintain enough in their coffers to ferret the candidate around to each debate, keep a basic communications infrastructure, and perhaps fly the candidate in for a few rallies. Everything else can be left to the super PACs. The ones supporting Newt Gingrich and Romney have already committed unprecedented funds to the airwaves in South Carolina, and the ledger for the pro-Huntsman PAC seems likely to increase given the support of Jon Huntsman Sr. in New Hampshire last night.