Tuned In

Hunting for Drama After a Quick Romney Call

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If the all-night toss-up call in the Iowa caucuses was a nail-biter, last night’s New Hampshire primary was—what’s the opposite? A nail-grower? Each network news division called the race for Mitt Romney at 8 p.m. ET on the dot (after hinting at the non-surprise outcome beforehand). So what was left to keep viewers around on a non-suspenseful fight? The race for second—called quickly after for Ron Raul—then third, then fourth, then fifth; the various runners-up speeches; and lots of jawboning as to what might, possibly let the actual voting in the Republican race match the excitement that the not-voting gave us all last year.

The first resort, was, of course, expectations. Romney won, as he was expected to for some time in Massachusetts’ neighbor, but did he do as well as he should have? According to the panel on Fox News, which once employed Romney’s opponents Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, possibly not. “It’s a good night for Mitt Romney. Not a great night for Mitt Romney,” said pundit-panelist Stephen Hayes of the Weekly Standard, while Bill Kristol pointed to what he termed disappointing turnout, which he said spoke to a lack of enthusiasm: “I think that’s worrisome for Republicans.”

At MSNBC, meanwhile, the analysts were pinning their hopes for electoral fireworks on Ron Paul, and possibly the convention. Rachel Maddow and Al Sharpton in particular noted that the libertarian might not be able to win the nomination outright but could bring a lot of votes to the convention and… and what, exactly? Push a Paul-friendly platform on Romney? Demand a prominent speech? Organize a walkout or rebellion if Romney does not hew close enough to his vision? The panel did not agree—Maddow, for instance, thought that Paul would try to protect his legacy for his son Rand—but there will be plenty of time to spin delicious scenarios if the primary itself does not start creating more suspense.

The next chance for that will be in South Carolina, with its more conservative voting base, and that’s where CNN more immediately looked. In its innovation of the night, it had a roomful of South Carolina voters on a dial test to measure their instant reactions to each candidate’s speech, and thus presumably assess their chances on the next stop. (It turns out, as we might have guessed, that Republicans like seeing Republicans give victory speeches, while they like Paul’s anti-war rhetoric less.)

In the meantime, over at fledgling news outlet Current, it turned out to be a good night for Keith Olbermann to have scheduled a vacation. (After a dustup with his bosses, apparently over the production quality of his show, Olbermann skipped Iowa coverage but has since announced that he will anchor Current’s election nights going forward.) Al Gore, who seemed too big for the cable-access-style studio on Iowa night, this time appeared via a large flat screen TV, turned vertically so that it seemed to squeeze his shoulders.

As for the candidates, even they kept to a tight schedule, giving their remarks in a tightly air-traffic controlled sequence—though Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum ended up overlapping, the better to get everything wrapped up by shortly after 10. As commentators noted all night, it looks less likely that someone can stop Romney, given that after all the debates drama this is the first time a non-incumbent Republican has won both Iowa and New Hampshire (assuming that we consider Romney’s Iowa performance a win and not a tie or a counting error). Leaving us with the question, as Tom Brokaw put it on MSNBC: “What kind of jihad are [conservative voters] going to have in South Carolina?” Hopefully, one that lets us all get to bed on time again.