CONCORD, New Hampshire, January 9, 2012 ( – In a primary season now infamous for its volatility, conservative contenders jostling for the title of the anti-Romney candidate are at least making one thing clear: it ain’t over til it’s over.

Conservative America’s bid to challenge the famously moderate Mitt Romney appeared as uncertain as ever this week: Santorum, who captured national interest in the wake of a Gingrich poll plunge, is already facing a challenge by Jon Huntsman, another pro-life Republican and the last candidate to see his own surge.

Last, that is, except for Ron Paul, the only anti-Romney contender who seems to break the fad-candidate pattern: fighting heavy antagonism from mainstream Republicans, the government minimalist has been keeping up a slow-and-steady rise, with the last Suffolk poll placing him in a solid second (20%) behind Mitt Romney (33%) in the Granite State. The same poll put Santorum – fresh off his near-victory in Iowa – ten points behind Paul, and three behind Huntsman, who benefitted from the Boston Globe’s endorsement and a superPAC ad buy totaling $1.25 million, according to the Huffington Post.


Very early New Hampshire Republican Primary results reported by the Associated Press Tuesday afternoon show Romney at 36.8%, Paul at 26.3%, and Huntsman at 21.1%. As in an earlier Iowa poll, Paul leads Romney in the early returns of Drudge Report’s poll.

As Santorum rides a media wave after his virtual tie with Romney in Iowa, the senator’s strong support of family values continues to bring conservative issues to the top of the news cycle. In particular, Santorum has caught flak for October comments pinpointing birth control as a primary of today’s sexual immorality, and for defending marriage.

“One of the things I will talk about, that no president has talked about before, is, I think, the dangers of contraception in this country,” he told an interviewer. “Many of the Christian faith have said, ‘Well, that’s okay. Contraception is okay.’ It’s not okay. It’s a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be.” A Salon article blasted Santorum for the remarks, warning that the candidate is “coming for your contraception.”

Meanwhile, despite finishing below Santorum in Iowa, the Ron Paul team is already speaking of the race as a showdown between Paul and Romney.

Paul, a personhood supporter and strict constitutionalist, targeted Santorum, Gingrich, and Huntsman on Tuesday for failing to distinguish themselves from Romney as big-spending conservatives and for what he deemed a cheap shot from all three against the Massachusetts governor over a quote taken out of context.

“Rick Santorum, Jon Huntsman, and Newt Gingrich are once again proving why they are unfit to be President and why this has become a two man national race between Mitt Romney, the candidate of the status quo, and Ron Paul, the candidate of real change,” said National Campaign Chairman Jesse Benton in a statement Tuesday.

The two-man race claim has some grounding: after a months-long struggle with low media coverage, the Congressman from Texas found himself mobbed by reporters in New Hampshire, even forcing him to cancel a key campaign stop at a restaurant thanks to an unmanageable media swarm. Politico reports that Paul is gearing up to capitalize on his strength as the man with the most dedicated base, and is prepping to extend his campaign well past the early state primaries and into the national convention.

Paul has also used his platform to bring latent conservative issues to the fore, such as parents’ rights to educate children. “It’s not the government’s job to educate you, it’s your parents’ job,” Paul told a questioner who asked about his plan abolish the Department of Education on Sunday.

In the short term, the contours of the race promise to stay bumpy: a Public Policy Poll for the next-up South Carolina primary shows Mitt Romney leading at 27%, Newt Gingrich at 23%, and Rick Santorum at 18%. Ron Paul drew only 8%, and Huntsman, for all his effort in New Hampshire, trails political comedian and South Carolina native Stephen Colbert, 5% to 4%.

Huntsman also joins several candidates struggling to secure a presence in upcoming primary states: only Romney and Paul have collected enough signatures to appear on the Virginia ballot, and Huntsman failed to qualify in Illinois and Arizona as well.

Although Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli reversed his initial interest in reviewing the ballot qualifications, Santorum, Perry, and Gingrich have filed a lawsuit against the requirements. A U.S. District Court judge has barred distribution of the ballots, and indicated that he agrees the requirements may be unconstitutional, a decision Cuccinelli is fighting.

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