The winner in Monday’s debate between Newt Gingrich and Jon Huntsman isn’t as important as who is the loser: Mitt Romney.
Newly minted as the GOP’s technical front-runner after Saturday’s six-candidate showdown, Gingrich started the week off raising the profile of Huntsman, who didn’t even qualify for the debate in Iowa. The two of them are sitting down for a “Lincoln-Douglas“-style debate in New Hampshire, unmoderated and so each of them is guaranteed plenty of time in front of the news media.
It’s no accident that Gingrich’s counterpart in the forum is Huntsman, who has made the Granite State his campaign’s top priority and who is the candidate closest to a Romney alternative.
“The strategic decision that Gingrich is making is, he wants somebody to try to cut into Romney’s support,” said Andy Smith, the director of the Survey Center at the University of New Hampshire.
Even if Romney wins the New Hampshire primary, Smith said, Gingrich would benefit if the former Massachusetts governor loses some voters to Huntsman, who is polling poorly across the country. “Any media attention that he gets is good media attention, so for him, this is a no-brainer for Huntsman,” Smith said.
But don’t jump to conclusions just yet. Smith said his polling at the UNH Survey Center shows that voters haven’t yet decided whom to casst a ballot for in the state’s primary.