MANCHESTER, N.H. — Mitt Romney easily won the Republican presidential primary here this evening and immediately turned his attention to South Carolina.
In a fiery victory speech to a packed room of supporters on the campus of Southern New Hampshire University, Romney touched on conservative themes sure to resonate with Palmetto State Republicans, alternating between a hopeful vision of the future and blistering criticism of President Barack Obama. South Carolina Republicans go to the polls in just 11 days to decide what could be the crucial primary in the race for the 2012 GOP White House nomination.
“The president has run out of ideas. Now, he’s running out of excuses. And tonight, we are asking the good people of South Carolina to join the citizens of New Hampshire and make 2012 the year he runs out of time,” Romney said.
With 71 percent of precincts reporting, Romney led the field with 38 percent of the vote, followed by Rep. Ron Paul (Texas) with 24 percent and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman with 17 percent. Paul and Huntsman were projected to finish second and third, respectively. Former Speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.) and former Sen. Rick Santorum (Pa.) were tied at 10 percent each, followed by Texas Gov. Rick Perry with 1 percent. Now the race shifts in full to South Carolina.
Romney needed a strong win in New Hampshire to shed lingering doubts about the strength of his candidacy heading into South Carolina, which features a more conservative electorate than the Granite State and could provide the former Massachusetts governor with a much tougher test. The Palmetto State could also breath new life into his competitors, particularly Santorum, who finished just eight votes behind Romney in the Iowa caucuses.
That fact did not appear lost on Romney this evening.
After thanking New Hampshire voters for their support, Romney launched into a sharply worded address that checked the boxes on the major issues of concern to South Carolina Republicans, many of whom identify with the tea party movement. One phrase Romney used to describe his plans to address the federal deficit could have been interpreted as an appeal to Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), who is popular at home and influential in conservative circles nationwide.
Obama “raised the national debt. I will cut, cap and balance the budget,” Romney said. During last summer’s fight over the debt ceiling, DeMint and other tea party conservatives backed an alternative plan that they called “Cut, Cap, Balance.” DeMint endorsed Romney in 2008 but has said he will not endorse a candidate this time around. Meanwhile, Romney has been endorsed by South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R).