Frank Pignanelli & LaVarr Webb: This will be a big week for presidential campaigns

Published: Sunday, Jan. 8 2012 12:00 a.m. MST

In this Nov. 19, 2011, file photo Republican presidential hopeful, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, right, greets a young supporter during a town hall event in Peterborough, N.H.

Michael Dwyer, File, Associated Press

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For Utahns, the upcoming week of presidential campaigning might be the most interesting ever. Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman has staked his campaign on a strong New Hampshire showing on Tuesday, and adopted Utah son Mitt Romney seeks to consolidate his front-runner status with a solid win. We explore the ramifications:

How well must Huntsman do in New Hampshire to remain a viable candidate and continue his campaign?

Pignanelli: "New Hampshire's political philosophy can best be described as neo-odd. One governor was re-elected after he said the state National Guard unit should have nuclear weapons." — Kimberly Marlowe. [Note: It is great fun to watch the Republicans behave like Democrats in prior elections — directionless and divided] In order for Huntsman to continue through January, several results must occur on Tuesday night. These are not impossible — but mandatory — for his future existence in this campaign. He must run a strong third behind Romney and Ron Paul. Romney must be held to 43 percent or less. The pundits and spinmeisters must conclude that the only credible alternative to Romney for true conservatives is Huntsman.

Webb: Huntsman is hoping to be the Rick Santorum of New Hampshire. He's slogged across the state, camping out there for months. He needs to have all the hard work pay off with a close second finish. He could possibly finish third and stagger on, if he's bunched in a tight group at the top. But without a nice fat bounce in New Hampshire, he won't have the money or organization to put up much of a fight in subsequent states.

Will Huntsman meet those expectations, or is New Hampshire the end of the road?

Webb: Huntsman has set high expectations, saying he needs to win New Hampshire. He's not going to make it. It was a longshot candidacy to begin with. After all, his last job was working for President Barack Obama. Wrong year. Wrong ideology. All of which is unfortunate, because Huntsman is just the sort of candidate needed to defeat Obama. I admire his unwillingness to pander to the far right, but that's the wing of the party that controls the nomination process.

Pignanelli: The national media love Huntsman because they view him as an intelligent, non-crazy, stable, down to-earth, real human being with a manageable ego (adjectives never used together when describing the other candidates). Pundits have opined on numerous occasions that Huntsman's record as governor, ambassador and businessman is the strongest conservative and successful record of all the candidates. If larger audiences hear this story, there is a strong possibility that Huntsman will garner enough support in the Granite State to launch a serious offensive in Florida. (After skipping South Carolina — where he may get arrested for his moderate social views).

Expectations are high for Romney in New Hampshire. Is a narrow win enough to maintain strong momentum? How will he do?

Pignanelli: The Romney campaign — and Romney himself — are well oiled machines that plod forward unhindered by obstacles and creative original thoughts. He will win New Hampshire. However, anything less than 40 percent will be considered weak. If he is above 50 percent, the inevitable coronation will be in early February.

Webb: Romney has put enormous amounts of time and resources into New Hampshire, unlike Iowa. He needs to win in the mid-30s or above to bolster his front-runner status and move to the next battle. A big win would build the inevitability he wants. My guess is that Paul, Santorum and Huntsman will cut into his lead so doesn't get a big, decisive win, but it will be easily enough to keep him going strong.

Is Rick Santorum for real, or another "flavor of the month" who will wilt amid intense scrutiny and criticism?

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