Romney quickly moved to consolidate his support by delivering an impassioned victory speech that focused not on his primary opponents but squarely on President Obama. He appealed to voters in South Carolina, who will go to the polls in 11 days, to propel him to the nomination and “make sure 2012 is the year [Obama] runs out of time.”
Speaking to supporters in his campaign headquarters in Manchester, N.H., just half an hour after the polls closed, Romney assailed Obama for failing to live up to the “lofty promises made by a hopeful candidate” in 2008.
“Today we’re faced with the disappointing record of a failed president,” he said. “The last three years have had a lot of change, but they haven’t offered much hope.” Adding a shot aimed directly at Obama’s recent jobs tour, Romney added: “The middle class has been crushed. Twenty four million of our fellow Americans are still out of work, struggling to find work or have stopped looking.”
Former House speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.) and former Pennsylvania governor Rick Santorum, who had narrowly lost to Romney in the Iowa caucuses last week, finished farther back.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry didn’t campaign in New Hampshire so he could focus on South Carolina, which could represent a last chance for him and several others if they cannot blunt Romney’s momentum in a state where his conservative credentials could face their stiffest test.
Vowing to press on, Paul addressed his supporters in Manchester, saying Romney “certainly had a clearcut victory, but we’re nibbling at his heels.”
In his victory remarks, Romney lashed out at Obama and his Republican rivals, who in recent days criticized his record as a venture capitalist, portraying him as a “vulture” who preyed on troubled companies.
“President Obama wants to put free enterprise on trial. In the last few days, we have seen some desperate Republicans join forces with him. This is such a mistake for our party and for our nation,” Romney declared. “This country already has a leader who divides us with the bitter politics of envy. We must offer an alternative vision. I stand ready to lead us down a different path, where we are lifted up by our desire to succeed, not dragged down by a resentment of success.”
Romney’s victory was expected for a candidate who has campaigned aggressively in this state that borders his home turf. After eking out a narrow win in last week’s Iowa caucuses, Romney hoped a bigger victory here could ramp up his momentum heading into the South Carolina.
In New Hampshire, exit polls showed more independents than in Republican contests in 2008, 2000 or 1996. By party identification, nearly half of early voters say they identify as independents, with more than four in 10 of all voters officially registered as undeclared. And six in 10 voters identified the economy as the most important issue, even in a state whose 5.2 percent unemployment rate is fourth lowest in that nation.