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Romney Cements Front-Runner Status with Unlimited Spending from Unregulated Super PACs

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We speak with Mother Jones reporter Andy Kroll about how Mitt Romney “got his money’s worth” in New Hampshire’s Republican primary, winning about 40 percent of voter support, almost double that of his closest challenger, Rep. Ron Paul. Kroll says the victory demonstrates how one of the key stories in this campaign has been the rise of super PACs, the independent political action committees that can now raise and spend unlimited amounts of money since the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling. “This outside money, especially for the pro-Romney folks, has been a way to knock [his challengers] all out at the knees and solidify Governor Romney’s spot on the top. And it’s something that his campaign can’t do, and really doesn’t want to do,” Kroll says. “They don’t have to worry about being so negative, because they have this outside dark-money group to do it.” [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: We continue our coverage of the New Hampshire Republican presidential primary with Andy Kroll. Andy Kroll is a reporter for Mother Jones magazine who has been covering the primaries.

Andy, welcome to Democracy Now! Are you there?

ANDY KROLL: Thanks for having me.


ANDY KROLL: Thanks for having me.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Can you say a little bit, Andy, about what the turnout was like last night?

ANDY KROLL: Yeah, the turnout was estimated to be close to 250,000 ballots cast. That would be a record number in the primary. And, you know, the Deputy Secretary of State chalked that up in part to the fact that we did not have a competitive Democratic primary. It was really to—the President. And so, you had undeclared voters who, you know, don’t cast their lot with one of the political parties. You know, some of them, in theory, could—who may not have traditionally voted in Republican primaries, might have voted yesterday. And so that, in a large way, accounts for why we had this pretty big turnout yesterday.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: How does it compare to the turnout in 2008?

ANDY KROLL: It would be slightly higher than that turnout, again, because we had two competitive races on both sides, the Democratic and Republican side, in 2008, whereas this year it was—all the action was on the Republican side, really.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk, Andy Kroll, about the results—the big win for Romney, what this means, how they ran their race in New Hampshire coming out of the razor-thin victory from Iowa, and also what it means for Ron Paul, coming in a strong second, and Jon Huntsman, who bet the bank on New Hampshire?

ANDY KROLL: Well, for Mitt Romney, it solidifies his front-runner status. You know, he had made New Hampshire the place where he wanted to do the best of the two early states of Iowa or New Hampshire. And, you know, he almost had 40 percent, and it was a decisive victory. You know, he got his money’s worth, given how much time and how much money his campaign poured into New Hampshire. I mean, he—you know, it is unprecedented to win the Iowa caucuses and to win in New Hampshire, as Governor Romney himself said. And so he goes into South Carolina so much in the driver’s seat. A win there for him would really almost lock it up for him, if New Hampshire hasn’t already.

For Ron Paul, you know, it was a very strong showing for him. You know, he has his doubters, he has his critics, but, you know, young voters, independent voters, came out strong for him yesterday, especially in rural areas. They showed that Ron Paul is not someone to be dismissed, second place. And Ron Paul has said, you know, he fully intends to compete throughout the nomination process, you know, well into this year, into the summer. He’s building up an infrastructure in Nevada right now, which is another early caucus state. So, Ron Paul silenced some of those critics, I think, and silenced some of those doubters and showed that he’s for real, for those who didn’t think so already.

Jon Huntsman, on the other hand, took what looks to be something of a mortal blow, unfortunately, for his sake. They bet everything in New Hampshire. He did more than 170 events here. All of his campaign infrastructure essentially is here. Third place for him, you know, around 17 percent, really doesn’t—you know, it’s hard to see how and where he goes from here. He’s polling in the 1 percent margin in South Carolina, doesn’t have any infrastructure there, really doesn’t have any money, as well. The tank is running dry for him. And so, while he says he has a, quote, “ticket to ride” to South Carolina, to use, you know, the famous Beatles song, it’s difficult to see how he competes there at all.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Andy Kroll, can you say—you’ve talked a little bit in one of your articles about the role of outside money in this campaign. Can you say a little about that?

ANDY KROLL: Yeah. I think what we’ve seen in this campaign is the rise of super PACs. These are the supposedly independent political outfits that can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money. You know, Mitt Romney has a very deep-pocketed super PAC. In Iowa, we saw this pro-Romney super PAC, which purports to be independent but is really run by former Romney ’08 campaign staffers—we saw this super PAC just viciously attack Newt Gingrich, essentially knock Newt Gingrich far down the polls. Newt Gingrich finished far back in the pack in Iowa and tied for fourth here in New Hampshire. And Gingrich was in fact someone who, at one point, very briefly, was competing with Governor Romney on the national stage and in New Hampshire. And that super PAC money just knocked him down and just gutted his campaign.

And so, we’ve seen the super PAC money again here in New Hampshire. We saw it in Iowa. We’re going to see it, you know, in the millions of dollars in South Carolina and Florida, the next two primary fights. And so, this outside money, especially from the pro-Romney folks, has been a way to knock them all out at the knees and solidify Governor Romney’s spot on the top. And it’s something that, you know, his campaign can’t do, and really doesn’t want to do. You know, they don’t have to worry about being so negative, because they have this outside dark-money group to do it. Ron Paul, as well, has had some outside groups working on his behalf, and he’s been attacking folks, like Governor Romney, like Jon Huntsman, here in New Hampshire. And then Governor Huntsman himself has a super PAC that was financed by his father, the billionaire chemical magnate. That super PAC is going to be crucial to whether Jon Huntsman even lasts another week in South Carolina. Yet it’s unclear whether that super PAC is going to continue helping him out or not.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Andy Kroll, talk about Carl Forti, the Republican strategist, and how important his work was in Romney’s success last night.

ANDY KROLL: Yeah, Carl Forti is Mitt Romney’s $12 million mystery man, as we recently put it. You know, he is the brains behind Restore Our Future, the pro-Romney super PAC. He’s plotting the strategy. He’s, you know, funding, cutting, conceiving the attack ads that have gone after Mitt Romney’s opponents. And I think that in Iowa, especially, that super PAC, Carl Forti, were just crucial in Romney eking out, as you said, that whisker-thin, eight-vote victory there. And now you have Governor Romney winning in Iowa, you have him winning in New Hampshire. They can say that “we’re making history” and be honest about it. And that history making would not have been possible without Carl Forti and this super PAC he’s running.

AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you, Andy Kroll, for being with us, of Mother Jones magazine, covering the New Hampshire primary for Mother Jones magazine.

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