The best man did not win the Republican primary in New Hampshire. Jon Huntsman's third-place finish, though respectable, calls into question his ability to carry on the fight. He gambled everything on the Granite State, and he came up short, polling third behind frontrunner Mitt Romney and libertarian Ron Paul.
The spread tells the tale. Romney captured about 38 percent of the vote, Paul 24 percent and Huntsman 17 percent.
Paul's platform is too extreme for all but the most die-hard fiscal conservatives in the Republican Party, and he is unelectable in the country at large. So the real contest in New Hampshire was between Romney and Huntsman. The 21-point deficit dividing them is probably too wide for Huntsman to be considered a serious alternative to Romney, especially because both appeal to more moderate voters.
Of course, Huntsman did knock off New Gingrich (10 percent), and social conservatives Rick Santorum (10 percent) and Rick Perry (1 percent). But then again, so did Romney.
Politics can change overnight, especially in the early primary season of a presidential election. Gingrich's attacks against Romney's record as the chief of private equity firm Bain Capital, in which the rabid Newt portrayed Romney as a job-destroying corporate raider, did not seem to have a big influence in New Hampshire. But it came late and may play better in South Carolina, where Gingrich has the support of a super PAC that has bought significant air time.
But it is hard to imagine that Huntsman will be able to overcome Romney's money and his deep political organization in South Carolina, which votes Jan. 21. Those factors will give Romney an even bigger advantage in Florida. Plus, Romney is the first candidate since 1976 to win both the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire.
This is a shame, in our view, because Huntsman is clearly the better candidate. His record as governor of Utah leaves no doubt about his bona fides as a fiscal conservative. No other Republican can match his knowledge of foreign affairs as a former ambassador to both China and Singapore. We prefer his economic policy to that of Romney.
Unfortunately, Huntsman put his faith in old-fashioned, shoe-leather, retail politics in New Hampshire, campaigning person-to-person across the state. Those who heard him liked him. But he was not able to cover enough ground or shake enough hands, though he surged at the end, climbing from single digits to a solid finish.
The question now is whether he can attract the money to continue. We hope he can, but the odds are clearly against him.