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New Hampshire has a tradition of upsetting the experts and giving the underdog a surprising victory in their traditional first-in-the-nation primary.
Not this time.
As expected, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney cruised to an easy victory on Tuesday night. Ron Paul finished a strong second and Jon Huntsman came in third. Romney, who has a summer home in the Granite State and has excellent name recognition as a result of his tenure as governor of next-door Massachusetts, ran well in all areas of the state — urban, suburban, and rural — while convincing the voters that he was the most electable of all the GOP candidates.
Romney became the first Republican candidate to win both Iowa and New Hampshire since 1976 when Gerald Ford turned the trick.
With most of the polls reporting, Romney would appear to have garnered about 39% of the vote, Ron Paul around 24% and Huntsman 17%. Romney was hoping to top 40%, which was where he had been polling the last week, but he emerges relatively unscathed despite some atypical gaffes in the last few days and a searing series of attacks by his GOP opponents.
The fight for second was the only significant question to answer at the end of the evening, with Huntsman surging from single digits in the polls just a few weeks ago and Ron Paul gaining momentum as well, attracting independents and Democrats who are allowed to vote in New Hampshire’s semi-open primary. Both candidates have announced they will go on to South Carolina for that primary on January 21.
Romney’s victory speech — given just a half an hour after the polls closed and in the coveted 8:00 PM hour on the east coast — delivered a withering blast at President Obama, as well as some harsh words about the line of attack that several of his GOP competitors chose to initiate. Criticism by Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry and other GOP candidates of Romney’s stewardship of his investment firm, Bain Capital, had many in the party crying foul and wondering whether the “desperate Republicans” as Romney called them, might be handing ammunition to Obama and the Democrats to use in the fall campaign.
But Romney saved his most potent barbs for the president. “We know that the future of this country is better than 8 percent or 9 percent unemployment. It is better than $15 trillion in debt. It is better than the misguided policies and broken promises of the last three years – and the failed leadership of one man,” Romney said.
Recent polls show Romney with the best chance to defeat the president in November, and he is virtually tied with Obama as he consolidates his support in the Republican Party. Last month, according to a Reuters poll, only 18% of Republicans said they would vote for him in November. That number climbed to 30% following his slim victory in Iowa last week. He still trails the president in the Reuters poll by 48%-43%, with the RealClear Politics average giving Obama a slight edge. And a Gallup poll out this week shows that the former Massachusetts governor would be acceptable to 60% of conservatives — a number that is almost certain to climb if Romney continues to win primaries.
Meanwhile, Ron Paul claimed he was “nibbling” at Romney’s heels and that his second place finish was proof that he had momentum going into South Carolina and beyond. The Texas congressman’s strong second place showing was a mild surprise, as he clearly outperformed expectations given that pre-primary polls showed him with less than 20% of the vote.
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