By USA Today
“Thank you New Hampshire. Tonight we made history,” Romney told well-wishers, flanked by wife Ann and the couple’s sons. “Tonight we celebrate, tomorrow we go back to work.”
Romney is the first Republican to sweep the first two contests in a competitive race since Iowa gained the lead-off spot in presidential campaigns in 1976. His win here the stage for a potentially bloody battle in the nextGOP battleground state, South Carolina, which holds its primary Jan. 21.
PHOTOS: GOP candidates in New Hampshire
With 51% of precincts reporting, the former Massachusetts governor had 37% of the vote, followed by Texas Rep. Ron Paul with 23% and former Utah governor Jon Huntsman with 17%. Former House speaker Newt Gingrich and former Pennsylvania senatorRick Santorum trailed with 10% each. Texas Gov. Rick Perry lagged with less than 1%.
The battle for second was won with surprising ease by the quirky populist Paul, who easily beat a surging Huntsman and Santorum, the runner-up to Romney at last week’s Iowa caucuses.
“I sort of have to chuckle when they describe you and me as being dangerous,” a jubilant Paul told supporters here. “That’s the one thing they are telling the truth. We are dangerous to the status quo of this country.”
Former Utah governor Jon Huntsman greets voters at Ward 1 polling place Jan. 10 in Manchester, N.H.
Like Paul, Huntsman said he was setting their sites on winning the upcoming GOP primary in South Carolina. “As we look at the numbers now, we’re in a strong, confident position – and all eyes are going to be south on South Carolina from here,” he told CNN.
In New Hampshire, the economy was the top concern of voters, according to results of an exit poll conducted by Edison Research for the Associated Press and TV networks. In addition, about a third of them said their main criterion in picking a candidate was finding one who can defeat President Obama in this fall’s elections. The survey was conducted at 40 random sites here, and the preliminary results are based on interviews with 1,774 voters. The poll has a margin of error of +/-4 percentage points.
Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum makes the rounds on Radio Row during the nation’s first primary on Jan. 10 in Manchester, N.H.
In his victory speech, Romney attacked Obama for his economic policies. “The last three years have brought a lot of change, but they haven’t offered much hope. We know it must be better and it will be better. That conviction guides our campaign. Americans know that our future is brighter and better than these troubled times. The president has run out of ideas. Now he’s running out of excuses.”
Romney has spent the last two days explaining and defending an offhand comment that he likes “being able to fire people.” Critics pulled Romney’s firing quote out of context to reinforce a withering assault on him for his role in the private equity firm Bain Capital, that took over companies and sometimes laid off workers.
Romney won easily among people considering themselves Republicans and conservatives, and did nearly as well among moderates. He shared the lead among independent voters with Paul.
Shannon Taber, 37, a bartender, voted for Romney because she said she’s looking for “basically someone who can beat (President) Obama.”
She said she likes Romney’s experience and the fact that polls show he’s got support. As a Republican, she feels “it’s time to band together and pick someone.”
Kevin Langelier, 42, an unemployed accountant, said he liked Romney when he was governor of Massachusetts.
“He’s got a successful career as a businessman and I think he can do a lot for the economy,” Langelier said. “I think he can beat Obama. I don’t think anyone else is electable.”
In the tiny town of Dixville Notch, which voted shortly after midnight, Romney and Huntsman tied for first place with two votes each. Gingrich and Paul got one vote each.
Santorum, who rocketed to prominence with a virtual tie with Romney in Iowa, said there wasn’t time enough to capitalize on that momentum before New Hampshire’s primary and that he would be content to pull a double-digit percentage of the votes.
There are lots of contests still to come, Santorum said, speaking to reporters between shaking voters’ hands at a Manchester polling place. “There’s going to be lots of opportunities to rise and fall,” he said.
A former ambassador to China in the Obama administration, Huntsman spent the final 48 hours trying to capitalize on a notable debate exchange with Romney. A relentless critic of Obama, Romney had criticized Huntsman for serving in Obama’s administration. Huntsman countered that he had put his country ahead of partisan politics.
Huntsman aired a new TV ad highlighting his call for national unity and…(read more)