Romney wins first primary
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney waves to supporters at the "Romney for President" New Hampshire primary night rally at Southern New Hampshire University in Manchester, N.H. Behind him are his sons, Tagg and Craig, and his wife, Ann.
Supporters of Republican presidential candidate former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney celebrate as it was declared that he was the winner of the New Hampshire primary.
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HOOKSETT, N.H. -- Mitt Romney is aiming for a trifecta in South Carolina after becoming the first non-incumbent to win the GOP's presidential contests in New Hampshire and Iowa.
The former Massachusetts governor hailed his victory in Tuesday night's New Hampshire primary with a general election-themed speech that pilloried President Barack Obama and mentioned his GOP rivals only in a slighting reference near its conclusion.
"The president has run out of ideas, now he's running out of excuses," Mr. Romney said less than half hour after the last polls closed. "And tonight, we're asking the good people of South Carolina to join the citizens of New Hampshire and make 2012 the year he runs out of time."
There had been little doubt that Mr. Romney would win the first primary here, in a state in his back yard and one in which he's unofficially campaigned nonstop since a disappointing loss hobbled his presidential bid four years ago. But the size of his winning margin, seen as a test of whether he would go limping or charging into the next primaries in South Carolina and Florida, reaffirmed his status as the front-runner in the race.
Mr. Romney echoed the phrase quoted by former President Ronald Reagan as he said he would ensure that the world viewed the United States as a "shining city on a hill," suggesting Mr. Obama has a more skeptical view of the nation he leads.
"He apologizes for America and I will never apologize for the greatest nation on the face of the Earth," Mr. Romney said, repeating the assertion at the heart of his campaign book, "No Apology."
With 95 percent of the vote counted, Mr. Romney was well ahead with 40 percent. U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas had second place locked up with 23 percent, and Jon Huntsman, the former Utah governor, was third at 17 percent.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich held a slight lead over former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum in a battle for fourth in the muddled field of challengers to the front-runner with about 10 percent each. Texas Gov. Rick Perry was a distant sixth with 1 percent.
The solid margin for Mr. Romney's victory here makes the Palmetto State that much more crucial for the rivals as perhaps the last opportunity to blunt the momentum of his amply funded campaign before the nomination battle moves to Florida and the other big-state contests to follow. He has led in recent polls in South Carolina.
Both Mr. Paul and Mr. Huntsman appeared to have been aided by a robust turnout among the independent voters who are permitted to vote in New Hampshire's GOP primary. Both candidates reveled in their showings, but their challenges will be compounded as the battle moves to primaries restricted to Republican voters.
Mr. Paul can count on the continued support and financial backing of his intense supporters. Despite his showing here, and a strong third place in Iowa, the libertarian has yet to demonstrate that he can approach a majority among the Republican voters who will determine the nomination. Still, he has money to go on, abetted by the intense supporters, who greeted him with cries of "President Paul."
As he was about to speak Tuesday night, many of them chanted, "Ron Paul revolution; bring us back our Constitution."
The candidate responded in the same spirit as he said, "What should the role of government be in free society? The role should be very simple, the protection of liberty."
For Mr. Huntsman it was at least a temporary vindication of a Granite-centric strategy in which he concentrated virtually all of his campaign time in New Hampshire, setting foot in Iowa recently only for one debate. It was the New England version of the campaign that brought Mr. Santorum from obscurity to near triumph in Iowa.
In a more abbreviated version of his Iowa tactics, Mr. Santorum spent more days in this state than anyone but Mr. Huntsman -- depending on how you account for the fact that Mr. Romney owns a vacation home here -- but his shoe-leather failed to provide the payoff he received in the Hawkeye State. He heads to South Carolina with a shakier claim than he had a week ago to the mantle of conservative alternative to the front-runner.
For Mr. Santorum, the second near tie in as many weeks was considerably less satisfying than the first. While his fundraising has reportedly picked up after his Iowa surprise, he will not be able to compete with Mr. Romney financially in the coming southern contests. In more conservative South Carolina, however, he is hoping that social conservatives will help him rebound from his trailing performance Tuesday night.
Mr. Gingrich has battled Mr. Santorum for the anti-Mitt title and took a few moments away from his increasingly vigorous assault on Mr. Romney this week to question Mr. Santorum's electability. Mr. Gingrich and a superPAC supportive of his campaign have received a major infusion of campaign cash in recent days. Those resources will be put to work in all-out attacks on Mr. Romney between now and South Carolina's Jan. 21 primary.
In a television interview before the polls closed, however, Mr. Gingrich acknowledged that without a win there, it would be difficult for his campaign to press on -- a reality that seemed even clearer after his trailing finish here.
Despite disappointing showings in Iowa and New Hampshire, Mr. Perry is also working the territory to the right of the front-runner and joined enthusiastically in Romney rivals' criticism of a remark he made about firing. On Monday Mr. Romney told a Chamber of Commerce breakfast that he "likes firing people" who provide inadequate service.
At times in the last two days, the front-runner's challengers sounded like they were organizing an Occupy Romney movement, with their expressions of populist outrage at his unfortunate phrase.
For most of this campaign, the GOP lines of attack against Mr. Romney concentrated on his changing positions on social issues including abortion rights, and his role in enacting a Massachusetts health care law. In the last two days, however, the "firing" line drew criticism of his role as an investment firm executive supervising a long line of company takeovers that sometimes ended in layoffs or bankruptcies.
Mr. Romney argues that the net effect of his firm's investments was the creation of more than 100,000 jobs, although some question how well that claim is documented.
Mr. Romney offered an oblique rebuttal to their criticism Tuesday night. "President Obama wants to put free enterprise on trial and in the last few days we've seen some desperate Republicans join forces with him," he said. "This is such a mistake for our party and for our nation. This country already has a leader who divides us with the bitter politics of envy."
The controversy over the remark is sure to echo though the campaign in South Carolina, a state with a significantly higher unemployment rate than in either Iowa or New Hampshire. And, perhaps more significantly, it is also a given that it will be used as a political club by Democrats should Mr. Romney's march to the nomination continue. That fact was evident hours before the polls closed as Democratic National Committee operatives here trumpeted the remark and contended that it betrayed Mr. Romney's true character as a bloodless businessman.
Still, Mr. Romney has the strongest hand in pursuing his immediate goal. The fact that his opposition remains divided enhances his chances in South Carolina.
First Published January 11, 2012 12:00 am