CHICAGO — Corn vs. maple syrup. College football vs. skiing. Caucus vs. primary. As the focus of the political world this week shifts east from Iowa to New Hampshire, it’s not just those differences that separate the Hawkeye State from the Granite State — the voters are none too similar either, a fact that could prove crucial as the latest battle for the Republican nomination takes place on Tuesday.
Take the two rivals who finished within eight votes of one another in Iowa: the victor Mitt Romney and the upstart Rick Santorum. The difference between voters in Iowa and New Hampshire means we are likely in store for a very different duel than the one we saw at the caucuses.
For starters, Iowa has a heavy social conservative voting bloc, something that cannot be said for New Hampshire. According to entrance polls in Iowa, 47 percent of voters said they were “very conservative,” a presence that favored Santorum. The former Pennsylvania senator received 35 percent of their votes, compared with only 14 percent who opted for Romney. Voters who identified themselves as “strong” Tea Party supporters favored Santorum by a 2-1 margin. A whopping 58 percent of Iowa caucus-goers called themselves evangelicals; 14 percent of voters listed abortion as their top issue.
But the electorate in New Hampshire is far less conservative on social issues than Iowa. In 2008, only 23 percent of New Hampshire GOP primary voters said they were evangelicals and over 50 percent said they thought abortion should be legal. What was Santorum’s strength in Iowa is now cause for concern in New Hampshire. Whereas Santorum throughout Iowa touted his “consistent conservative” credentials, he must now prove that he can sway more moderate voters.
When he arrived in New Hampshire Wednesday, Santorum appealed to the similarities among Republican voters in every state across the country.
“You believe here in New Hampshire exactly what they believe in Iowa, exactly what they believe in South Carolina,” he said.
While there will inevitably be some differences of opinion, Santorum argued, at least he is consistent in his views, a veiled shot at Romney who has been accused of being a flip-flopper.
“You may not agree with me on every issue and I suspect you don’t, but I can tell you that I agree with me on every issue,” Santorum said.
If Santorum will be trying to prove in New Hampshire that he can broaden his strong conservative base, Romney is trying to find a way to appeal to that part of his party.
“My question to you is can we do better here in New Hampshire?” Romney said at a campaign stop Wednesday. “Do you think we can get more than an eight-vote margin here in New Hampshire? I am going to try. Think we can get there? I sure hope so.”
There are reasons for optimism in the Romney camp. In Iowa it was not social or cultural issues but the economy that was the key issue for voters, according to entrance polls. Some 42 percent of caucus-goers said the economy was the most important issue. Romney took 33 percent of that vote, while only 19 percent opted for Santorum.
With the primary only five days away, Romney has a significant lead in the latest New Hampshire polls. The former governor of neighboring Massachusetts still keeps a summer house in New Hampshire and he has made numerous campaign appearances in the state over the past six months.
On the other hand, Santorum, who campaigned feverishly in Iowa but hardly at all in New Hampshire, has barely appeared on the radar in Granite State polls. Despite his vulnerabilities because of the differences between voters in Iowa and New Hampshire, Santorum maintains that he can do well come Tuesday.
“In a very short time frame, we will show here in New Hampshire that we are the kind of candidate that the people of New Hampshire can rally behind,” he said.
The fate of the Granite State primary may ultimately depend on just that. Then again, with Romney so far ahead and some candidates like Rick Perry focusing on the ensuing South Carolina primary, Tuesday’s primary may be nothing more than a foregone conclusion before the Republican race heads south.
Matthew Jaffe is covering the 2012 campaign for ABC News and Univision.