The publisher of New Hampshire's Union Leader newspaper told Newsmax Sunday that conservative candidates Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum and Rick Perry soon may have to muster their forces and unite behind one conservative to challenge GOP frontrunner and moderate Mitt Romney.
The best candidate would be Newt Gingrich, Union Leader Publisher Joe McQuaid, a conservative kingmaker in New Hampshire's politcal scene, said in an exclusive interview.
That’s why his paper endorsed the former House Speaker in November. But any of those three conserviates would be a viable alternative to Romney, who McQuaid called the “WORST candidate” and a “disaster” for the GOP in a front-page editorial in his paper Sunday.
“At some point, the other conservatives – Perry, Gingrich, Santorum – are going to have to say, ‘Let’s sit down and draw straws.' That’s the only way you’re going to stop Romney,” McQuaid said in an interview Sunday.
“All the so-called establishment Republicans seem to be moving in Romney’s direction. But I sincerely mean what I wrote on the front page. I think he would be the worst candidate,” McQuaid continued.
“Talk about the one vs. the 99 percent. I just don’t think Romney’s good. He’s so focused on just one of our problems – the economy – that versus a guy like Gingrich, who is a real forward thinker and will put out a lot of good ideas on a lot of subjects, it’s going to be tough.”
McQuaid also said that:
• Romney is a virtual shoo-in to win the New Hampshire primary on Tuesday, though he doesn’t think he’ll garner the 40 percent many polls have him at right now. The other candidates failed to seriously hurt Romney in Saturday and Sunday’s debates.
• Santorum has failed to move beyond his social conservative base – a smaller group among Republicans in New Hampshire compared to Iowa – and hasn’t reached the “unchurched” fiscal conservatives in the Granite State.
• Gingrich, Paul and Santorum will divide the second-place vote among conservatives in New Hampshire, who probably make up about one third of the voters who will cast ballots on Tuesday.
• Republicans may ultimately accept Romney as the nominee, but it could cost them the election because conservatives will not be motivated to turn out for him.
“Would Republicans accept Romney as the candidate? Yes,” said McQuaid. “Turn out in droves for him in the fall? No. And I think that’s one of the problems. He does not light conservative fires whatsoever."
On Sunday, McQuaid wrote that “Romney may be the WORST candidate” to pit against President Barack Obama. “For one thing, his claimed record as a fiscally conservative governor is as much of a sham as his flipflops on social issues.
“He claims to have cut a $3 billion budget deficit without raising taxes,” McQuaid wrote. “In fact, the deficit was one-third that size, and this supposed friend to business cut it by raising corporate taxes, along with taxes on New Hampshire commuters, by millions of dollars.
“Romney is a nice, rich man with a tin ear (he may or may not release his income taxes) and plenty of pals in the Republican in-crowd," the editorial continued. "Gingrich is a tough, smart Reagan conservative who brought his party out of 40 years in the wilderness, reformed welfare, and balanced the federal budget.
“Romney would be a disaster as the nominee. Gingrich would make an outstanding president at a time of crisis for America.”
If a Gingrich ran against Romney as the lone conservative candidate, McQuaid said Sunday, he would likely be the frontrunner. But for that to happen now, other coservatives are going to have to make the hard decision to step aside.
“I think there’s a possibility of that,” McQuaid said. “They (Gingrich and Santorum) both understand that Romney is the guy and I think they may well figure out it’s best to put personality aside and decide who’s going to challenge him. I can see a conversation between Perry and Gingrich and Santorum about it.”
But that won’t change things in New Hampshire said McQuaid, who said he didn’t see any signs of an upset in the making. The weekend’s debates only solidified Romney’s lead.
“Although he (Romney) got whacked a couple of times, I don’t think it’s enough for his apparently overwhelming lead to change that much,” McQuaid said. “Unless there’s a way for friends of Newt to come up with a lot of bucks to play on the ‘pious baloney’ line Newt used on Romney Sunday.”
“Romney didn’t fall down flat. The line in the press is going to be he withstood a thumping. Last night it was that nobody laid a glove on him though I don’t think anybody tried. Today it will be he withstood a thumping.
“Gingrich showed he’s the sharpest guy in the room but you only get so many questions thrown your way in one of those things.”
Conservatives make up probably about one-third of those casting their ballots on Tuesday, McQuaid said. Gingrich is weakened because he’s dividing that vote with Santorum, who isn’t a strong candidate.
“I think he (Santorum) is just not that deep,” McQuaid said. “He doesn’t have that much strength in terms of people backing him. He’s a nice-enough guy, but why we (the Union Leader editorial board) didn’t go with him to begin with is that outside of the social conservatives, I think it’s tough for him to broaden his base.
“New Hampshire will either prove it or disprove it because New Hampshire is not socially conservative like Iowa is,” McQuaid said. “There are a lot of voters who are unchurched and really care more about the fiscal issues.
“The average conservative voter in New Hampshire is not going to be attracted all that much to Romney. But the average conservative voter here may be a third of the potential turnout here on Tuesday.
“We just got rid of a Democratic legislature and we got a Democratic governor for life," McQuaid explained. "We have a Democratic U.S. Senator. It’s a moderate state. The Republicans tend to be more conservative, but it’s probably just one-third of those Republicans voting.
“I can’t believe the polls, that Romney is going to be as strong as the polls say," McQuaid added. "I just can’t believe that. That’s absurd to me.”
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