Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney has claimed victory in the Republican presidential primary in New Hampshire.
With more than half of the precincts reporting, Romney has a double-digit lead over anti-war advocate Ron Paul, a Texas congressman. Former U.S. ambassador to China Jon Huntsman is in third place with former House of Representatives speaker Newt Gingrich and ex-U.S. senator Rick Santorum battling for fourth place.
Romney told supporters the state had made history. He would be the first non-incumbent Republican to win both Iowa and New Hampshire since the 1970s, when the two states became home to the first contests of the presidential nominating season.
Romney also took aim at Barack Obama, calling him a failed president. He criticized Obama’s approach to a range of policy issues and said he would lead the country down a different path.
“Internationally, President Obama has adopted an appeasement strategy. He believes that America’s role as a leader in the world is a thing of the past. I believe a strong America must and will lead the future. He doesn’t see the need for overwhelming American military superiority. I will insist on a military so powerful no one would ever think of challenging it. He criticizes our friends like Israel. I will always stand with our friends. And he apologizes for America. I will never apologize for the greatest nation in the history of the earth.”
Many political analysts predicted Romney would win New Hampshire. But the battle for second and third place also is important, as it could help determine which candidates stay in the race.
Paul said New Hampshire also represented a victory for him.
“Now, I called Governor Romney a short while ago, before he gave his talk, and congratulated him because he certainly had a clear-cut victory. But we’re nibbling at his heels. But there was another victory tonight. He had a victory, but we have had a victory for the cause of liberty tonight.”
Speaking to his supporters, Huntsman vowed to continue on to the South Carolina primary Jan. 21, calling third place a ticket to ride.
Voting in New Hampshire got under way Tuesday just after midnight local time in Dixville Notch, near the Canadian border. Romney – who held a large lead in public opinion polls – won two of the town’s nine possible votes, tying him with Huntsman. Voters headed to gymnasiums, town halls and even churches to cast their votes.
Romney drew criticism from some of his Republican rivals after a speech Monday in which he said “I like being able to fire people.” The statement was directed at health insurance companies that fail to provide good service, and Romney said it was taken out of context.
Romney’s rivals also have been hammering him on his previous career running a private investment firm. They allege the firm laid off hundreds of employees in an effort to boost already large profits.
In his speech Tuesday night, Romney hit back.
“President Obama wants to put free enterprise on trial. And in the last few days, we’ve seen some desperate Republicans join forces with him. This is such a mistake for our party, and for our nation. The country already has a leader who divides us with the bitter politics of envy. We have to 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.”
Santorum lost to Romney by only eight votes last week in the Iowa caucuses.
All the candidates have been seeking to highlight their conservative credentials against the more liberal President Obama, a Democrat. Obama faced no major challengers in his party’s primary vote Tuesday.