Mitt Romney takes New Hampshire to cement position for Obama challenge

Former governor of the state of Massachusetts takes out Republican primary in neighbouring New Hampshire to secure 40 per cent of the vote with 281 of 301 precincts counted.

epa03087605 Former Massachusetts governor and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney celebrates his victory in the Florida Republican Presidential Primary at the Tampa Convention Center in Tampa, Florida, USA, 31 January 2012.  EPA/ERIK S. LESSER *** Local Caption ***  03087605.jpg
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WASHINGTON // Mitt Romney, a former governor of the state of Massachusetts, has won the Republican primary in neighbouring New Hampshire to cement his position as the favourite to win his party’s nomination to challenge Barack Obama, the US president, later this year.

With 281 out of 301 precincts counted, Mr Romney has secured 40 per cent of the vote, well ahead of second-placed Ron Paul, a Texas congressman, on 23 per cent, and Jon Huntsman, the former governor of Utah, who came third with 17 per cent.

Newt Gingrich, formerly the leader of the US House of Representatives, came in fourth with 10 per cent of the vote, just ahead of Rick Santorum, the former governor of Pennsylvania who had run Mr Romney close in Iowa, but came a distant fifth with nine per cent here.

“Thank you New Hampshire,” Mr Romney told supporters last night at his campaign headquarters in Manchester. “Tonight we made history…. Tonight we celebrate, tomorrow we go back to work.”

Mr Romney is the first Republican to win the first two nominating contests of a presidential campaign since 1975, and his victory in New Hampshire was never in doubt. He had a strong presence in the state and his popularity in nearby Massachusetts spilled over.

The only question was the margin of victory, and he will be content that a comfortable victory has put him in a strong position going into South Carolina, where the next primary is held. Mr Romney leads the polls there, but the state is more conservative and affiliation to the Mormon church is more controversial.

His rivals are in some disarray, however. Having secured 21 per cent of the vote in Iowa and now 23, Mr Paul is the only one of the Republican field showing any kind of consistency and before a typically fervent crowd of supporters – who kept interrupting the Texas libertarian with chants of “Ron Paul, revolution, bring us back our constitution” - Mr Paul Tuesday called his second place a “victory for liberty”.

“There is no way they are going to stop the momentum that we have started.”

Jon Huntsman, a former ambassador to China, came in third in the first race he has really contested, and said he would fight on in South Carolina. But he will be disappointed that he could not secure second place and, with most of his support from the moderate wing of the Republican Party, will likely struggle among the conservative base that comes into play in South Carolina.

Newt Gingrich needs to reverse his fortunes in South Carolina. Mr Gingrich has consistently looked strong in Republican debates, but has failed to translate those performances into votes and is badly faltering.

Mr Gingrich vowed to fight on in South Carolina, telling supporters it would take someone “capable of debating Obama face to face” to win the presidency. But he will look to South Carolina to provide him a reason to continue.

Mr Santorum, who garnered the evangelical Christian vote in Iowa to propel him to within eight votes of Mr Romney there, will also hope to bring back some energy to his campaign in South Carolina. And though he managed to secure more votes than projected in New Hampshire, the nine per cent he won here has not really furnished his campaign with much momentum.

This article was corrected on January 11, 2012 to reflect the fact Ron Paul is a Texas congressman not the state governor as previously stated