What N.H. Win Means For Romney's White House Bid

Mitt Romney is building momentum with wins in Iowa and New Hampshire. But he still faces criticism from fellow Republican rivals as the candidates turn toward South Carolina's primary. Host Michel Martin discusses the latest political news with U.S.News & World Report columnist Mary Kate Cary and journalism professor Cynthia Tucker.

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. In a moment, we'll join the ladies in the Beauty Shop to get their take on stories playing out in the news, and pop culture, and style. That's just ahead.

But first, we want to bring ourselves up to date on the top political news. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney won big in the New Hampshire primary yesterday, scoring 39 percent of the vote. Texas congressman Ron Paul was second, with 23 percent. And Jon Huntsman, the former ambassador to China, was third with 17 percent.

Now, the top finishers and the rest of the Republican field are hunting for votes in South Carolina, which holds its primary on January 21st. And where the candidates go, negative ads follow. South Carolina citizens are now braced for a barrage of pointed spots that could crowd the airways over the next 10 days.

We wanted to sort through all this. Of course, we called our dynamic duo of politics: Mary Kate Cary, columnist for U.S. News & World Report, and a blogger, and a former speechwriter for President George H.W. Bush; also with us, once again, Cynthia Tucker, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist. And she's now a professor of journalism at the University of Georgia. Welcome back ladies, thank you.

MARY KATE CARY: Great to be here.

CYNTHIA TUCKER: Thank you.

MARTIN: So of course, we want to start with Mitt Romney's big win in New Hampshire. In his victory speech, Mary Kate, he did not talk about the rest of the field. He focused on President Obama - which is something that he seems to have been trying to do all along, with sort of mixed success. I'll just play a short clip for folks who didn't want to stay up late enough to hear this.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRIMARY VICTORY SPEECH)

MITT ROMNEY: This president has enacted job-killing regulations. I'll eliminate them. He lost our triple-A credit rating. I'll restore it. He passed Obamacare. I'll repeal it.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERS, WHISTLES, APPLAUSE)

ROMNEY: And when it comes to the economy, my highest priority as president will be worrying about your job - not about saving my own.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERS, WHISTLES, APPLAUSE)

MARTIN: So Mary Kate, what's your take on this? I mean, do you think it's time for him - that this is the right strategy for him right now, to be the front-runner, to act like the front-runner and pretty much ignore the rest of the field?

CARY: Oh yeah, I think that speech last night was terrific. It was Reaganesque; it was optimistic. He - there were two, big lines that I wrote down as I was watching it live. One was, I stand ready to lead us down a different path where we are lifted up by our desire to succeed, not dragged down by a resentment of success.

Right before he said that, he talked about the desperate Republicans who were going after him for defending capitalism, and I think that is going to be the defining issue of the fall race. I can't believe these guys brought it up when they did - two days before New Hampshire - and I think he's going to use that to great effect.

The other line that I think is more general election, like you're talking about: If you believe the disappointments of the last few years are a detour, not our destiny, then I am asking for your vote. And that goes right to the disenchanted Obama independent voters who are still waiting for hope and change.

If you are still waiting for hope and change, I'm your guy. If you are waiting for your destiny - that is a very smart argument, I think, for getting the disaffected Democrats to move over.

MARTIN: Before I get Cynthia's perspective, when you said, I can't believe these guys brought this up two days before the election - what, exactly, are you talking about? I mean, you're talking about the tough ads that Newt Gingrich's - or the tough charges in the debates? You're talking about the debates over the weekend where particularly, Newt Gingrich criticized him...

CARY: Right.

MARTIN: ...for his work at Bain Capital.

CARY: And Rick Perry calling him a vulture capitalist.

MARTIN: Why can't you believe they brought it up?

CARY: Because it - what it did was - first of all, I think we got in a discussion about this several weeks ago, when Gingrich first started this. That is not an argument that any Republican should be making. We should be standing on the side of capitalism. So I think that caused the conservatives to be just aghast that there were fellow Republicans criticizing someone for being a capitalist. And that allowed, at the last minute - two days before the vote - Rush Limbaugh and Ron Paul to come to Mitt Romney's defense. And I think that caused a lot of conservatives to recoil from Perry and Gingrich, and go with Romney as a statement about, we believe in capitalism.

MARTIN: OK, Cynthia what's your take?

TUCKER: Well, I agree with Mary Kate about the parts of Mitt Romney's speech that she highlighted. I think it was a very good speech. I think those parts were particularly optimistic. I think that he has pursued a very good strategy, a farsighted strategy, when he has kept his eye on the economy. And I also have to say, I think many members of the GOP establishment must be breathing a sigh of relief this morning that Mitt Romney managed to get nearly 40 percent in New Hampshire. So he now brings big momentum into the rest of the race.

But I disagree with Mary Kate about the criticisms of Bain. First of all, there have been a couple of very thoughtful Republicans that I have heard, including Bill Kristol of the Weekly Standard, who have said that, you know, some of the criticisms of Bain are exaggerated, but it is a healthy debate to be able to talk about predatory capitalism that throws people overboard. And in one case, a company that Bain took over, people were left both without health care and their pensions, and a government fund had to step in and take care of their pension costs.

So I don't think that all conservatives want to be seen wrapping their arms, necessarily, around all of the practices of Bain & Company. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: The name of the private-equity investment firm that Mitt Romney led is Bain Capital. Bain & Company is a business consulting firm.]

MARTIN: Just to clarify before we move on, Bain & Company, of course, was Mitt Romney's company that invested - it's an equity company that invested and it bought companies, it sold companies. And the argument is that all this buying and selling of companies - so the argument, I think, hinges on whether that is good for the economy and good for the country to invest in these companies, to stimulate economic growth; or is it just a matter of moving the deck chairs around, and squeezing whatever you can out of these companies so that a few people benefit, and a lot of people suffer?

I mean, that's the predatory capitalism, you know, argument that - which, I think, a lot of people are surprised that we're having it now. A lot of people thought that this was the argument that we'd be having in the fall - in the fall campaign.

TUCKER: Right - right.

MARTIN: But, you know, moving on - before we move on - and we're hearing here from journalist Cynthia Tucker, who teaches journalism at the University of Georgia; and Mary Kate Cary, who writes editorials and blogs for U.S. News & World Report. She was also a former presidential speechwriter for President George H.W. Bush – and, of course, we're getting an update on this week's big political news.

Now, of course Cynthia, the campaign heads south. South Carolina is the next stop on the campaign trail. You know, this is interesting because Governor Nikki Haley, who is also kind of a rising star, a controversial figure in South Carolina - very few women in statewide office in South Carolina...

TUCKER: Yeah.

MARTIN: ...and here, she - a former state legislator who is now the governor. She's endorsed Mitt Romney, but evangelical voters play a much stronger role there than in New Hampshire. So Cynthia, assess the campaign in South - do you think that South Carolina will continue the momentum for Mitt Romney or - how does it look there?

TUCKER: Well, obviously, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum and Rick Perry all hope that South Carolina will be the place where they can finally throw up a significant barrier to the Mitt Romney coronation. There are far more evangelical voters in South Carolina than - certainly - there were in New Hampshire. And it is much more a part of the culture - the conservative evangelical Christianity is much more part of the culture in South Carolina than it is in Iowa.

However, let me say that I still think Mitt Romney is in good shape. Not only does he have Nikki Haley's endorsement, but I think that even many evangelical voters are coming to the view that Mitt Romney has electability going for him. Having said that, we all know that Newt Gingrich has made a huge ad buy in South Carolina, where he will continue to bash Bain for alleged predatory capitalism, for - and we'll see if that makes a difference where there's a high unemployment rate.

MARTIN: Let me just - I can just - for people who wonder what we're talking about, this is an anti-Romney spot, which is from a pro-Gingrich superPAC. These are these entities that since the Supreme Court ruling, eased spending by - well, it eased the limits on spending by groups.

TUCKER: Five-twenty-seven groups, right.

MARTIN: So here it is; here's what Cynthia's talking about. Here it is:

(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL AD)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: A story of greed, playing the system for a quick buck. A group of corporate raiders led by Mitt Romney, more ruthless than Wall Street. For tens of thousands of Americans, the suffering began when Mitt Romney came to town.

MARTIN: Dun-da-da.

CARY: Give me a break.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Dun-da-da. Well - but - so former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, who got this big bump out of Iowa, and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich were virtually tied in fourth place in New Hampshire, with just 9 percent of the vote each. And now, Gingrich has a big backer who's funding these ads.

So Mary Kate, do you think that they'll have an effect?

CARY: No. I think most people agree with what Ron Paul said, which - this is desperate. It's deplorable. They're fighting like Democrats - is what Ron Paul said.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CARY: And I think that the polls show Romney won Tea Partiers and evangelicals in New Hampshire by a wide margin, and those are two groups that are very big in South Carolina. CNN poll this morning in South Carolina shows he's ahead with both groups there as well. So I don't see Santorum suddenly coming out of nowhere again, and winning Tea Partiers and evangelicals.

MARTIN: Unemployment in South Carolina is quite a bit higher than it is in New Hampshire.

CARY: Yeah.

MARTIN: The unemployment rate in South Carolina is just under 10 percent, and New Hampshire's unemployment rate is just over 5 percent. But I don't know whether these voters are part of the Republican primary in South Carolina, anyway.

TUCKER: Well, here's the thing. You know -

MARTIN: Cynthia?

TUCKER: I think that - I don't think that this ad buy is going to help Newt Gingrich win South Carolina. However, I do think that it speaks to South Carolinians much more than it spoke to people in New Hampshire.

At least one of the mills - shuttered mills that is focused on in this ad is a South Carolina mill. And so I think that you will find that many of the people who are concerned about unemployment, who are skeptical about so-called predatory capitalism, do vote in the Republican primary.

MARTIN: OK. We'll see.

TUCKER: So you might see Mitt Romney hurt by this, his numbers come down.

MARTIN: We'll see. Mary Kate, you have 20 seconds to give me one, final thought. Smooth sailing after South Carolina for Mitt Romney - or not?

CARY: Oh, yeah. South Carolina's turning into a Waterloo for everybody else. No candidate in history, on the Republican side, has ever won Iowa and New Hampshire back-to-back. If he wins New Hampshire, which - I mean, South Carolina, which he's widely expected to do, historic win. Game over.

MARTIN: OK. Well, we'll see.

CARY: We should have a nominee by State of the Union.

MARTIN: All right. Well, we'll see.

CARY: Yeah.

MARTIN: Mary Kate Cary is a columnist and blogger for U.S. News & World Report. She's a former speechwriter for President George H.W. Bush. She was here with us in our Washington, D.C., studios.

Cynthia Tucker is a journalism professor at the University of Georgia; Pulitzer Prize winner. She was kind enough to join us from member station WUGA in Athens, Georgia.

Ladies, thank you.

CARY: Thank you.

TUCKER: Thank you.

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Correction Jan. 12, 2012

In this story, a reference was made to Mitt Romney's private equity work at Bain & Co. In the 1970s and early '80s, Romney was a partner at that firm. But in 1984, he and two other partners spun off Bain Capital as a private equity firm, and today Bain & Co. says they are separate companies. The transactions that are now the subject of criticism happened during Romney's tenure at Bain Capital.

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