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  • Staff photo by Don Himsel


    Primary winner Mitt Romney with his family on stage at his election night event in Manchester Tuesday, January 10, 2012.
  • Staff photo by Don Himsel


    Nashua's Chamber of Commerce director Chris Williams waits at Mitt Romney's election night event in Manchester Tuesday, January 10, 2012.
  • Staff photo by Don Himsel


    Supporters cheer at hearing election results at Mitt Romney's election night event in Manchester Tuesday, January 10, 2012.
  • Staff photo by Don Himsel


    Primary winner Mitt Romney is all smiles as he stands in front of an raucous crowd at his election night event in Manchester Tuesday, January 10, 2012.
  • Staff photo by Don Himsel


    Primary winner Mitt Romney shakes hands in the crowd at his election night event in Manchester Tuesday, January 10, 2012.
  • Staff photo by Don Himsel


    Primary winner Mitt Romney shakes hands in the crowd at his election night event in Manchester Tuesday, January 10, 2012.
  • Staff photo by Don Himsel


    New Hampshire primary winner Mitt Romney smiles at his election night event in Manchester Tuesday, January 10, 2012.
  • Staff photo by Don Himsel


    Primary winner Mitt Romneyis all smiles on stage at his election night event in Manchester Tuesday, January 10, 2012.
Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Romney stays on message, wins big

MANCHESTER – Mitt Romney cruised to victory in the first-in-the-nation primary Tuesday, hoping it shifts him into an overdrive gear all the way to the Republican presidential nomination.

Now, one of his rivals must struggle mightily to become the only nominee ever to have lost both the New Hampshire and Iowa contests.

“Thank you, New Hampshire. Tonight we made history,’’ the former Massachusetts governor said triumphantly at a raucous victory celebration at Southern New Hampshire University.

“This state has always been a very special place for our family. The Granite State moment we have just enjoyed is one we will always remember.’’

Romney called on South Carolina voters to help him wrap up the race in 11 days and tried to cast the fall election campaign against President Barack Obama.

“This election is a choice about two very different destinies,” he said.

“This president wants to fundamentally transform America. We want to restore America to the founding principles that made this country great.’’

And the wealthy entrepreneur vowed to make this campaign a full-throated defense of his success as a capitalist and lashed out at GOP rivals Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry who had criticized it.

“President Obama wants to put free enterprise on trial, and the last few days have seen some desperate Republicans join forces with him,” Romney said as supporters loudly booed their candidate’s critics.

“This is such a mistake for our party and our nation. America already has a leader who divides us.’’

Romney sought to turn Obama’s historic, 2008 “hope and change mantra’’ against him.

“Today, we are faced with a disappointing record of a failed president,” he said. “The last four years have brought a lot of change, but not a lot of hope.”

Romney’s victory was comprehensive and total, as he won in all corners of the state and piled up big victories in Manchester, Concord, Portsmouth, Somersworth and Lincoln.

According to exit polling, Romney sewed up this impressive win by gobbling up most of the late-deciding voters, those 20 percent or more who made up their minds in the final weekend.

Romney led among self-identified moderates (37 percent), somewhat conservative (45 percent) and even conservatives (30 percent).

With 65 percent of the votes counted, Romney led with 37 percent, with Texas Rep. Ron Paul headed for the all-important silver medal with 23 percent.

Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman finished strong and was running third with 17 percent, denying any momentum to either ex-House Speaker Gingrich or former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, each with 10 percent.

Texas Gov. Perry, who did not campaign here, and former Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer, who did, each were on track to receive less than 1 percent of the vote.

Paul – who did well among single voters, lower-income residents and first-time voters – said his vow to cut $1 trillion in federal spending his first year in office resonated and makes this a two-person race.

“I would say we are the only ones really in the race with him (Romney), and we’ll see how it comes out,’’ he said.

The three-time presidential candidate congratulated Romney but claimed his own win Tuesday.

“He certainly had a clear-cut victory, but we are nibbling at his heels,’’ Paul said.

“We have had a victory for the cause of liberty tonight.’’

Paul mocked the GOP establishment, which labeled his foreign policy opposing U.S. military actions as dangerous.

“I sort of have to chuckle when they describe you and me as being dangerous,’’ Paul said at his party at the Executive Court Banquet Facility in Manchester.

“That’s one thing they are telling the truth because we are dangerous to the status quo in this country.’’

Paul insisted his attack on federal spending, the Fed and invasion of personal civil liberties will continue to grow.

“Now the irate minority is growing by leaps and bounds, it is going to continue to grow by leaps and bounds, and we will restore freedom to this country,’’ Paul said at the close of his remarks.

Not so fast, Huntsman said, who vowed to take the fight to Romney in South Carolina.

Huntsman told his supporters at the Black Brimmer American Bar & Grill in Manchester that his third-place showing gives him the momentum needed for his campaign to head south.

“Ladies and gentlemen, I think we are in the hunt,” he said.

“I’d say third place is a ticket to ride.”

Huntsman said he will press his themes of ending U.S. operations in Afghanistan, tackling the nation’s suffocating federal debt and limiting terms for members of Congress.

“They are tired of being divided,” he said. “They want leadership that will stand up and say, first and foremost, we need leaders to come together to solve our problems.’’

With the win, Romney becomes the first non-incumbent with primary opposition to win Iowa and New Hampshire, and the only one with a shot of taking the White House.

Then-President George H.W. Bush turned the trick with victories in Iowa and New Hampshire in 1992, only to lose to Bill Clinton, the first man in American history to get elected president without winning the New Hampshire’s primary.

Romney’s New Hampshire victory was an affirmation of someone who learned from his first failed run and was determined not to make the same mistakes a second time around.

Romney, 64, realized that trying to be all things to all voters came off as inauthentic against a real-life, American hero in John McCain, who buried him in New Hampshire and went on to capture the 2008 nomination.

So while Romney had views on issues across the landscape last time, the new-and-improved candidate was singularly focused in this race, selling himself as the would be job-creator-in-chief.

Romney said his quarter century as a co-founder of Bain Capital, the Boston-based venture capital giant, and stint as the rescue CEO of the Salt Lake City Olympics in 2002 gave him credibility to go up against President Obama Barack in an economy that’s lost 2 million jobs.

So while the rest of the Republican field was throwing elbows and jockeying for a prominent place in line, Romney ran a general election campaign from the outset, training his sights on the incumbent.

“I believe he has failed miserably,” Romney said in Nashua on primary eve.

“I don’t think he’s a bad guy; I just don’t think he understands how the economy works at the level of business.”

Rich Killion is a veteran GOP campaign operative who worked on Romney’s campaign four years ago but is neutral this time.

“This is the Mitt Romney we wanted to have the first time; the guy who didn’t get sidetracked by his views of the day on illegal immigration, same-sex marriage or abortion,” Killion observed.

“It’s been jobs and the economy, and that’s right in the wheelhouse of what the voters are looking for.”

Voters also saw a safe and cautious candidate, one who didn’t offer lengthy policy polemics, but a 59-point plan long on sweeping, optimistic themes and short on substance.

While others like Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry and Rick Santorum offered specific plans for a single-rate or stripped-down income tax overhaul, Romney spoke only about making the code “simpler and flatter,” leaving the details to later in the campaign.

And Romney mightily tried to tailor his message to a general election audience, speaking often about the suffering of the middle class and offering a capital gains tax cut only for those making less than $200,000 a year.

At every stop, Romney made his appeal for a bipartisan approach, reminding audiences that as Massachusetts governor he had to compromise with a Legislature that was 85 percent Democratic.

“He’s been simple, easy to understand and pretty disciplined with a sales pitch that works well in a state that is not doctrinaire conservative,” said Andrew Smith, director of the University of New Hampshire Survey Center.”

“He found a winning message for New Hampshire.’’

Romney also used the all-star motif with a large bandwagon of prominent Republicans in his camp, which included three former governors, Sen. Kelly Ayotte, former Sen. Judd Gregg, Rep. Charles Bass, a majority of state Senate Republicans and nearly all the county sheriffs.

As the prohibitive favorite for two years, Romney had to run through the gauntlet in his summer-residence home state, which loves to embarrass front-runners.

What’s helped Romney immensely here was the inability of anyone to get enough traction to emerge as the alternative who could knock him off.

Time after time, one-hit wonders came near the top of this large heap of hopefuls, only to fall back into the pack or disappear entirely – former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, billionaire magnate Donald Trump, Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, Georgia businessman Herman Cain, former House Speaker Gingrich and near Iowa caucus winner Santorum.

Mike Dennehy was political director for McCain’s national campaign run in 2008 and managed his stunning New Hampshire primary win over eventual President George W. Bush in 2000.

“Mitt Romney had the good fortune this time of not having to face a John McCain, someone with a compelling personal story who could really connect with voters in New Hampshire,’’ he said.

Former Attorney General Tom Rath is a senior strategist in the Romney camp.

“I’ve had to deal with all these comments that we’ve been playing the JV squad in this primary, and it’s not true,’’ he said.

“These are substantial opponents, but I’ve never seen a primary like this in which the predominant theme isn’t an issue but a cause – to defeat President Obama – and Mitt has stood head and shoulders as the best one capable to pull it off.’’

Huntsman, 51, made a gambit many have tried and few have succeeded at – to make New Hampshire the singular beachhead for a national campaign.

He made more campaign stops here than all the other candidates and moved his national campaign from Florida to the first-primary state in hopes of staging a surprisingly strong showing here.

Early on, the former Utah governor struggled to find a winning theme, starting out with the message that he’s a Republican hard to pigeonhole, given his support for civil unions for gay couples and global warming.

Then Huntsman’s Super PAC, Our Destiny, framed Huntsman as the true conservative with strong support from gun owners, abortion opponents and low-tax zealots.

And Huntsman broadened his message, calling for congressional term limits and an end to the revolving doors for politicians-turned-lobbyists and banks that are too big to fail.

In the waning days, Huntsman tried to turn his partisan weakness into a strength – that he had been Obama’s ambassador to China. When Romney questioned this as a potential disqualifying quality, Huntsman jumped on it and made ‘Country First” his closing theme.

And before the votes were counted, Huntsman insisted that, like Santorum in Iowa, he was the candidate with the late momentum.

“Over the weekend, I started feeling that something was happening on the ground. Call it a surge; call it whatever you want,’’ Huntsman said during a Concord radio interview Tuesday.

“I have felt it in campaigns past.’’

This has been Texas Rep. Ron Paul’s third campaign for the White House, and it has been very different from his previous tries.

Paul’s libertarian call for draconian cuts in spending, a nonmilitary intervention foreign policy and pleas to respect civil liberties continued in this race.

But Paul, 75, was the attack dog this time, raising nearly 10 times more money than he ever has before and using much of it to blast his rivals on TV and in the mail as phony conservatives or serial hypocrites.

Strafford Republican Sen. Jim Forsythe said Paul’s time has come.

“Some see his as a radical message, but it’s where the American people are,’’ he said. “The voters have had it with the drowning debt, the irresponsible spending and trying to be the policeman of the world.’’

Only a month ago, Gingrich, 68, looked like the real-deal conservative who could topple the Romney juggernaut.

But Romney Super PAC and Paul campaign attacks in Iowa whittled Gingrich down to size and made him an angry warrior in the first primary state here.

Gingrich became the first candidate to whip out the anticipated Obama campaign theme against a GOP nominee Romney – that he’s been the heartless profiteer who led Bain’s raid on super-stressed companies, taking out millions in cash before these firms went under.

“They apparently looted the companies, left people unemployed, and walked off with millions of dollars,” Gingrich said Monday.

“Look, I’m for capitalism, I’m for people who go in to save a company … if somebody comes in, takes all the money out of your company, and then leaves you bankrupt while they go off with millions, that’s not traditional capitalism.”

The Club for Growth and other right-leaning groups hammered Gingrich, whose own Super PAC prepared to dump $3.4 million of attack ads against Romney in South Carolina, which votes next Jan. 21.

Gingrich had two, big conservative megaphones that made him a contender here – the New Hampshire Union Leader and House Speaker William O’Brien, R-Mont Vernon.

But 2012 Republican candidate for governor Ovide Lamontagne said Gingrich failed to follow that up with grassroots activism on the ground.

“You can’t rely on the paper’s endorsement to carry your campaign. You’ve got to turn into a brush fire with the activist core that’s going to walk through fire for you,’’ Lamontange said on Laura Ingraham’s national talk-show program Tuesday.

Santorum, 53, had been hoping New Hampshire would continue the rags-to-riches political story he found in Iowa, where he came within eight votes of grabbing the gold medal away from Romney.

Prior to this Hawkeye State push, Santorum had spent the third most amount of time here, had more than two-dozen elected and former officials in his camp and a seasoned New Hampshire GOP pro, Michael Biundo, running his national campaign.

“I feel pretty good; we’ve done all we could do not on a shoestring, but with much less resources than others have had, but we’ve got the full spectrum, consensus conservative,’’ Biundo said Tuesday.

But Santorum had been knocked off stride during the final week, getting into a spat with student voters over his opposition to same-sex marriage at one Concord rally in one of only five states where it’s legal for gay and lesbian couples to marry.

Kevin Landrigan can reached at 321-7040 or klandrigan@nashuatelegraph.com; also check out Kevin Landrigan (@KLandrigan) on Twitter and don’t forget The Telegraph’s new, interactive live feed at www.nashuatelegraph.com/topics/livefeed.