Mitt Romney Meets Expectations With New Hampshire Win, Ron Paul Takes Second Place
Jon Huntsman, in third place, declares that he's "in the hunt."
Mitt Romney, who governed in adjoining Massachusetts and maintains a palatial second home in New Hampshire, captured the Granite State's Republican primary as expected Tuesday.
Strong showings by Ron Paul and Jon Huntsman appeared to scramble the rest of the GOP field's prospects. Exit polls allowed observers to call the race almost as soon as the polls closed at 8pm EST. A record number of 250,000 voters turned out on an unseasonably warm January day.
Early returns put Paul, the libertarian Texas congressman with a strong following among young Republicans, in second place. He was followed by former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, who successfully waged an unexpectedly robust campaign in the country's first true primary.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum were locked in a battle for fourth place. Texas Gov. Rick Perry was running behind the entire field.
Gingrich, Santorum, and Perry are now banking on strong showings in South Carolina, the first of the party's crucial Southern primaries on January 21. A super PAC allied with Gingrich already is spending millions of dollars to blanket the state with anti-Romney advertising.
Both Santorum and Perry are relying on their appeal to social conservative evangelical Christians, who comprise a majority share of the South's registered Republicans.
Exit polls in New Hampshire predicted that Romney would win more that 30% of the vote the state's vote while Paul was expected to win more than 25% of the vote.
Paul continued to out perform his showing in the 2008 campaign, capturing the attention of young voters who like his anti-war, small government philosophy.
"There is no doubt this whole effort we are involved in will not go unnoticed," Paul told his supporters Tuesday evening. "There is no way they are going to stop the momentum we have started."
The crowd chanted: "Ron Paul revolution bring us back our constitution."
Still bitter from the beating he took in Iowa, Gingrich, meanwhile, continued his unrelenting assault of the viability of Romney's candidacy.
"If he can't come close to 50% here it's very unlikely he can sweep the nomination," Gingrich told reporters in New Hampshire. "And I think that gives the party time to take a deep breath, look at his record and begin to realize that maybe this isn't the right guy to run against Obama."
Even though he was headed for fifth place in the New Hampshire primary, Santorum told FOX News that he believes his campaign still has momentum and the race will eventually come down to a contest between him and Romney.