Romney took a crucial step toward the Republican nomination on Tuesday with his win in New Hampshire, the second contest in thestate-by-state battle for the Republican nomination. He won 39 percent of the vote and was well ahead of his nearest rival, Reuters informs.
“Tonight we made history,” Romney told cheering supporters before pivoting to a stinging denunciation of President Barack Obama.
“The middle class has been crushed … our debt is too high and our opportunities too few,” he declared – ignoring the rivals who had been assailing him for weeks and making clear he intends to be viewed as the party’s nominee in waiting after only two contests.
According to The New York Times, representative Ron Paul of Texas, whose candidacy has never concerned Mr. Romney, finished second. Former Gov. Jon M. Huntsman Jr. of Utah, who staked his entire campaign here, placed a distant third but pledged to fight on.
Victory in South Carolina’s January 21 primary could derail rivals’ hopes to consolidate a splintered conservative vote and set Romney on a steady march to nomination.
With his victory, Romney became the first Republican to sweep the first two contests in competitive races since 1976. Based on partial returns, The Associated Press estimated that turnout would exceed the 2008 record by about 4 percent, according to The Huff Post.
“In the last few days, we have seen some desperate Republicans join forces with him,” Mr. Romney 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.”
His words were directed squarely at Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker, who accused Mr. Romney of presiding over the “looting” of companies.
Unlike Iowa and New Hampshire, where unemployment is well below the national average, joblessness is far higher in South Carolina. That creates a different political environment for the race.
The state also has a reputation for primaries turning nasty, and it appeared that all of Romney’s pursuers read the new Hampshire returns as reason enough to remain in the race.
Mr. Paul, the only Republican candidate to rival Mr. Romney in the breadth of his organization across the country, congratulated Mr. Romney on his triumph and pledged to press forward with his campaign, declaring, “We have had a victory for the cause of liberty tonight.”
Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who skipped New Hampshire to get a head start in South Carolina, said Tuesday’s results showed “the race for a conservative alternative to Mitt Romney remains wide open.”
“They’re vultures that are sitting out there on the tree limb waiting for the company to get sick,” Mr. Perry told a crowd in Fort Mill, S.C. “And then they swoop in, they eat the carcass, they leave with that, and they leave the skeleton.”
Huntsman had staked his candidacy on a strong showing in New Hampshire, and he announced after the polls closed that he had passed his own test. “Where we stand is a solid position and we go south from here,” he said.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I think we’re in the hunt,” Mr. Huntsman said, speaking to his supporters in Manchester. “I’d say third place is a ticket to ride, ladies and gentlemen. Hello, South Carolina.”
Mr. Santorum and Mr. Gingrich delivered speeches at the same time on Tuesday evening, not conceding defeat, but arguing that the race was only beginning. They thanked the voters of New Hampshire before dashing off to South Carolina, where they hoped the electorate would be more welcoming to their message.
“I believe we can reach out and create a majority that will shock the country and a majority that will continue to put us on the right track,” Mr. Gingrich said. “It is doable. It is a daunting challenge, but consider the alternative.”
“We have an opportunity to be the true conservative to do what’s necessary,” said Mr. Santorum, who had hoped his strong second-place finish in Iowa would keep his candidacy alive. He reassured his supporters, “We can win this race.”
Romney’s Mormon faith was a stumbling block for some evangelical Christians in Iowa, who also make up a large percentage of the South Carolina electorate.
Still, polls show Romney leading other candidates in the state.
A Reuters/Ipsos poll on Tuesday showed Romney was way ahead of rival Republicans nationally, with 30 percent support. He still trailed Obama by 5 percentage points in the White House race but was catching up.