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11 Jan 2012 07:17
Mitt Romney won the New Hampshire Republican primary on Tuesday, a major step toward cementing his position as the party’s choice to run against President Barack Obama in November.
With a sizable win in New Hampshire on the heels of his narrow victory last week in the Iowa caucuses, Romney has strong momentum going into the crucial—and likely more difficult—South Carolina primary on January 21.
His victory made him 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.
With Romney’s win in New Hampshire almost a foregone conclusion, candidates were vying for a second-place finish as they attempted to establish themselves as the main alternative to Romney.
Congressman Ron Paul, with 24%, was leading former Utah governor Jon Huntsman for second place. Huntsman had 18%. Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House of Representatives, had 10% and former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum had 9%.
Paul is considered a long shot to overtake Romney. He has a loyal core of supporters drawn to his libertarian, small-government message but his calls for military cuts, withdrawing troops from Afghanistan and legalising drugs puts him at odds with many Republicans.
Huntsman, Obama’s first ambassador to China, skipped Iowa and has campaigned in New Hampshire more than any other candidate. He is at the bottom of national polls and needed a strong showing for his campaign to continue.
Santorum, who draws support from social conservatives, looked to build on his near-victory in Iowa, where he fell just eight votes short of Romney.
Gingrich is looking to recover after his once-soaring candidacy plummeted in Iowa where he finished fourth after being targeted by a barrage of negative television ads by Romney supporters.
Texas governor Rick Perry was also on the ballot but effectively conceded New Hampshire. He considered quitting the race after finishing fifth in Iowa but hopes to revive his candidacy in South Carolina which holds the first primary in a southern state.
The crowded field has benefited Romney, dividing up the votes of Republicans who are wary of his candidacy. While the Republican establishment has largely rallied behind Romney, who is seen as having the best chance of defeating Obama, he has been unable to win more than 25% to 30% in national opinion polls. Some Republicans have questioned his conservative credentials and are uneasy with his Mormon faith.
Republicans see a strong opportunity to defeat Obama, who has struggled with stubbornly high unemployment since taking office in 2009. Romney has said his business experience heading a venture capitalist firm gives him the experience to turn around the US economy.
But Romney’s rivals have cast him as a millionaire who is out-of-touch with the American public and whose business experience has been more about cutting jobs than creating them.
Gingrich said Romney’s former firm, Bain Capital, “apparently looted the companies, left people totally unemployed and walked off with millions of dollars”.
Romney did not help himself with recent gaffes. On Sunday, he made the unlikely comment that he understood the fear of being laid off. “There were a couple of times when I was worried I was going to get pink-slipped,” he said, although neither he nor his aides offered specifics.
And on Monday, while discussing health insurance coverage, he said, “I like being able to fire people who provide services to me. If someone doesn’t give me the good service I need, I’m going to go get somebody else to provide that service to me.”
None of that impeded Romney in New Hampshire.
In his first presidential run in 2008, Romney finished second in the north-eastern state to John McCain, who ultimately won the nomination. This time, he campaigned with McCain’s endorsement.
Obama sweeps Democratic primary
South Carolina, with its more conservative electorate, including a large bloc of evangelical Christians, will likely be more difficult for Romney. He finished fourth there in 2008. A committee created to help Gingrich said it would spend $3.4-million to purchase television ads attacking Romney.
Still, a poll last week showed Romney leading. A win in South Carolina, following victories in Iowa and, presumably, New Hampshire, would make Romney very difficult to stop.
The Republican nominee will ultimately be determined by a state-by-state tally of delegates at the Republican National Convention in August. Twelve delegates were at stake on Tuesday in New Hampshire, out of 1 144 needed to win the nomination.
Obama won New Hampshire’s Democratic primary.
Obama, running uncontested, cruised to victory in voting on Tuesday.
Far fewer voters participated in the Democratic primary than the competitive Republican primary.
Obama won New Hampshire in the 2008 general election but he lost the Democratic primary four years ago. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s narrow defeat of Obama, a dramatic upset coming after Obama’s victory in the Iowa caucuses, led to a protracted race for the Democratic nomination.—Sapa-AP
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