Libertarian Rep. Ron Paul (Tex.) finished second in New Hampshire. Former Utah governor Jon Huntsman Jr. placed third, largely on the strength of the votes of independents and moderates.
What the results left unclear, however, is who — if anyone — might emerge as the conservative alternative to Romney.
Exit polls showed that the quality most valued by Romney’s supporters was the ability to defeat President Obama, and his victory speech looked forward to that general-election battle.
Where Romney’s remarks on the night of the Iowa caucuses were off the cuff, his New Hampshire victory speech — delivered with a teleprompter, shortly after the polls closed — sounded more like an address he envisions giving at the Republican convention.
Romney focused on what he called “the disappointing record of a failed president” rather than the rest of the GOP field.
To the degree he even mentioned his increasingly combative primary opponents, it was as an oblique reference to “some desperate Republicans” who, he said, have joined forces with Obama.
“This is such a mistake for our party and for our nation,” Romney added. “This country already has a leader who divides us with the bitter politics of envy. We must offer an alternative vision.”
Former senator Rick Santorum (Pa.), who finished a mere eight votes behind Romney in Iowa, was unable to translate that into the surge he had hoped for in New Hampshire. Former House speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.), who has been blistering in his criticism of Romney, also failed to break through.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry, having all but abandoned the state, finished at the back of the pack of major contenders.
Unlike past New Hampshire primaries, which served to clear the field of weaker candidates, this one does not appear to have reshuffled the roster.
It may, however, bring about some rethinking of the candidates’ strategies. Gingrich, for one, sounded as though he was trying to climb back up on the high road in the wake of his disappointing finish.
“We’re going to take to South Carolina tonight and kick off tomorrow morning a campaign for jobs and economic growth,” the former speaker said from his election-night party in downtown Manchester. “A campaign for a balanced budget, a campaign for returning power to the states, a campaign for a strong national security, a campaign for a stable, solid Social Security program. . . . If we are smart, we can do better things for people.”
With Romney’s New Hampshire win coming a week after a photo-finish victory in the Iowa caucuses, he was the first non-
incumbent Republican to win the first two contests on the modern nominating calendar.