On January 11, Thomas Mann answered your questions on the results of the New Hampshire primary, the path forward to the GOP nomination and how the grueling primary season will help or harm the eventual nominee in the race against Barack Obama, in a live web chat with POLITICO.
12:30 Vivyan Tran: Welcome everyone! Let's get started.
12:30 Comment From Anne: How substantial was Romney's victory last night?
12:31 Tom Mann: It was a good solid victory, fully in line with pre-election polls and Romney's standing in the state for many months.
12:31 Comment From Tony: Are you seeing a general weakness in the overall Republican field? None of the candidates seem particularly attractive to average GOP voters.
12:33 Tom Mann: The general weakness of the Republican field has been evident from the outset of the campaign, after all of the other potential candidates declined to run. Romney has maintained his lead and won the first two contests largely because he is the only plausible general election candidate and president available to Republican voters.
12:33 Comment From Tim C.: During his victory speech last night, Romney was speaking as if he was almost guaranteed to be the GOP candidate. Has he effectively sealed the deal?
12:36 Tom Mann: Not quite but he is close and it makes sense for him to act as if he is the nominee. But first he must win South Carolina to seal the deal.
12:36 Comment From Bob: What's next for Huntsman since he essentially poured everything he had into New Hampshire?
12:37 Tom Mann: Not much in 2012. He claims he has a ticket to South Carolina but he has little standing in the polls, organization or resources to compete.
12:37 Comment From Denise Chrispim: Professor Mann, will SC be the toughest challenge for Romney? Can he convince voters there that he is a real Christian, a politician committed to the antiabortion and anti-gay marriage causes and an ethical capitalist? Or might these topics be the fall of his nomination?
12:39 Tom Mann: I don't think that it is necessary for him to win in South Carolina. He has the advantage of a divided conservative opposition, as John McCain did in 2008, so a third of the vote would do just fine for him. The challenge is to withstand the barrage of attacks that will come in the next ten days.
12:40 Comment From Carolina: What do you make of Gingrich's comments on Romney's "vulture capitalism?" Is this a legitimate claim? And isn't it only going to hurt the GOP if Romney is the eventual nominee?
12:43 Tom Mann: Fascinating debate occurring within the Republican party about the nature of capitalism and free markets. Romney brought much of this problem on himself. Bain was in the business of making money for its investors, not creating jobs. He will never be able to win the argument that he was a job creator while at Bain. Just as Ted Kennedy used it against him in the Massachusetts Senate race, Obama and the Democrats will emphasize the nature of his work at Bain.
12:43 Comment From Jacqueline: After a poor showing last night, is Santorum's surge over?
12:44 Tom Mann: Yes, just like the surges of the previous not-Romney candidates faded soon after they arose.
12:44 Comment From Shar: Is it possible to knock Mitt Romney from the lead and, if so, what actions from his rivals and/or what sort of slip up would bring that about?
12:47 Tom Mann: That is the question being discussed today by conservative activists. At the very least, it would take two of the three candidates (Gingrich, Santorum and Perry) to drop out and throw their support to the one remaining. With Paul's presence, however, even that might not be sufficient to stop Romney.
12:47 Comment From Thor Knobtree: Do you think Jon Huntsman will last until the Florida primary?
12:47 Tom Mann: No, at least not as a serious candidate.
12:48 Comment From Clare: If Romney pulls a big victory in South Carolina, who do you think would be the next most likely 2012 hopeful to withdraw from the race?
12:48 Tom Mann: Huntsman, then Perry, Gingrich and Santorum in that order.
12:48 Comment From Lesley: Why didn't Santorum do better? Did he just not have enough time to mobilize?
12:49 Tom Mann: New Hampshire voters were not buying what he was selling, especially his religious conservatism. Mobilization was the least of his problems there.
12:50 Comment From Tom: Is the race essentially now a Mitt vs. Ron Paul contest?
12:51 Tom Mann: That's not a contest, it's a path to the Republican convention ensuring Romney's nomination. Paul cannot win but he can make things difficult for the GOP in November.
12:51 Comment From Guest: Do you think there's any chance there will be a third-party candidate? Related to that, what do you make of "Americans Elect," the group trying to raise enough money to put a third-party candidate on every ballot in the country?
12:54 Tom Mann: I see Americans Elect as a spoiler, financed by some wealthy business types who fantasize about a "centrist" candidate transforming American politics. They will likely find such a candidate but not much of a market in a Romney vs. Obama contest. But they could end up producing an outcome not favored by a majority of voters.
12:54 Comment From J. Binder: Is Perry dead? If he is, does he know it?
12:54 Tom Mann: Yes. No.
12:54 Comment From Julio: What do you think is the best-case scenario for Ron Paul now that he's sealed second place in New Hampshire?
12:56 Tom Mann: He can continue to compete as long as he wants and win 10 to 25 percent of the vote. He can also make demands on the Republican platform and threaten a third-party candidacy. But he cannot win the Republican nomination.
12:56 Comment From Sarah S.: If Romney is the eventual candidate, who do you see as his likely VP? I think Chris Christie would give his campaign some much-needed energy, but I've also heard Rubio's name tossed around.
12:57 Tom Mann: Those are possibilities but it is much too early to decide. He has to see how quickly he wins the nomination and what problems remain for him in the Republican party.
12:57 Comment From Guest: Do you have an opinion on how a Romney candidacy would affect congressional races in 2012?
12:59 Tom Mann: A Romney victory would very likely be accompanied by Republican majorities in the Senate and House. Unified Republican government but with smaller majorities in Congress than Obama had after the 2008 election.
12:59 Comment From Ezzad Emir: Why isn’t the economic agenda being debated by the Republican candidates?
1:03 Tom Mann: Because there is no difference among the candidates on economic policy. The GOP nominee will focus attention on Obama's leadership on the economy and try to keep the public in the dark on the particulars of a very extreme economic platform.
1:03 Vivyan Tran: Thanks for the questions, see you next week!