'A Big Win' for Romney in NH
Former Massachusetts governor declared winner as soon as polls closed.
Mitt Romney has spent the last several months battling his Republican presidential foes. After easily winning the New Hampshire Primary on Tuesday, he sounded like a man ready for several more months of battle against President Barack Obama.
"The last few years have offered a lot of change but not a lot of hope," Romney told supporters gathered at Southern New Hampshire University. "We know it must be better and it will be better."
After winning Iowa by a slim margin, Romney has now made it two for two in 2012 contests.
"The president has run out of ideas," Romney said. "Now he's running out of excuses. We're asking South Carolina to join New Hampshire and make 2012 the year he runs out of time."
Romney's win on Tuesday night was no surprise, but the speed with which the race was called was. Just minutes after the polls closed, the Associated Press had declared him the winner. Ron Paul finished second, followed by Jon Huntsman, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum.
"This was a validation race for Governor Romney," said Pat Griffin, a senior fellow at Saint Anselm College's New Hampshire Institute of Politics. "This is a big win for him tonight, and as long as there are multiple social conservatives both attacking him and challenging him, and nothing coalesces around a single candidate, he's going to go on to win this thing."
Next up is South Carolina, and while Griffin said "it's not going to be pretty," he feels the Republican Party "wants this over with, they want it done."
Romney also showed he is ready to compete down south, saying, "Tonight we celebrate, tomorrow we go back to work."
From the moment he entered the race, Romney was seen as the frontrunner here in New Hampshire, racking up an impressive list of endorsements and supporters after a second place finish here four years ago.
Throughout this primary campaign, Romney's critics ripped him for not being a "true conservative." But he weathered it well, not to mention challenges from a seemingly endless pool of GOP candidates.
First it was Michele Bachmann. Then Rick Perry. Herman Cain was next, before Gingrich got his moment in the spotlight. More recently, Santorum's strong showing in Iowa had him poised to challenge Romney.
But in the end, the combination of Romney's having been here before, having a strong grassroots organization, and the money to advertise was too much for his opponents to overcome.
New Hampshire House Majority Leader D.J. Bettencourt, R-Salem, called the results of the primary "very impressive" for Romney.
"He's now in a strong position to lock up the nomination," said Bettencourt, who endorsed Romney in September.
While watching the returns to see the remaining places of the other candidates, Bettencourt downplayed whether margin of victory is at all important for Romney.
"I've never met a win I didn't like," he said.
With 87 percent of precincts reporting, Romney had 39 percent of the vote, Paul 23 percent, Jon Huntsman 17 percent, and Gingrich and Santorum 9 percent apiece.
"It looks like we've got the story we thought we'd be getting," Griffin said. "The question is does Huntsman come near enough here, or is he done? I suspect it's going to be hard for him to play without a really impressive win here."
State Rep. Fenton Groen, R-Rochester, a Santorum supporter, said he thought it was a little early to declare Romney the winner, but said it was hardly news.
"I think right now the battle is for second, third, fourth place, and that's going to be the big prize tonight," he said.
Robert McGuirk of Nashua was at Gingrich's campaign party at the Radisson on Tuesday night, and didn't seem disappointed by the result.
"If Romney is the guy for the party, then he's the guy," he said. "But I think a third place finish here tonight would be good for Newt."
Kurt Jacobson, another Gingrich supporter, also wasn't disappointed by his candidate's showing.
"He's going to play hard down in South Carolina," he said. "I think that based on Huntsman and Romney, and Romney being the hometown guy, and Huntsman staking his campaign here, it's not bad."