By MARK PENN
Published January 11, 2012

The center is back.

After a year in which it looked like the Republican Party was headed to the extremes with Sarah Palin, Donald Trump, Herman Cain and then Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney last night took 49 percent of the Republicans who voted in the New Hampshire open primary.

And the more centrist the Republican nominee, the more centrist the president needs to be in order to win in 2012. The huge ideological gap that would have made running against the Republicans an easy romp is disappearing as the exit polls show that even primary voters are choosing practicality over partisanship. In both Iowa and New Hampshire, Romney won with those voters who thought he had a better chance to beat President Obama in November.

Despite Ron Paul’s popularity with youth and Jon Huntsman’s popularity with Democrats, Romney managed to still win the registered Independents and those who identified as socially moderate and liberal. The attributes that have been a weakness to Romney during the primary season will likely be his strengths in the general election if he clinches the nomination in the next contests.

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