Mitt Romney: “We will make 2012 the year Obama runs out of time”

Republican presidential front-runner Mitt Romney is heading to the US south buoyed by a strong victory in the New Hampshire primary.

Mr Romney won nearly 40% of Tueday’s vote in the Granite State, well clear of his nearest rival Ron Paul, on 23%.

He admitted he faces a stern test in South Carolina, where the next primary will be held on 21 January.

South Carolina, a staunchly Republican state, has a history of backing the eventual nominee in its primary.

Mr Romney, who hails from the US north and was formerly governor of Massachusetts, has consistently struggled to make an impact in the south.

Speaking on US TV on Wednesday he said he faced an “uphill battle” in South Carolina, but said his two wins so far – in Iowa’s caucuses and New Hampshire’s primary – had given him a “bit of a boost”.

And he faces a struggling field in next week’s election, with conservative opponents Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry winning low shares of the vote in New Hampshire.

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New Hampshire primary result

Source: AP projected result
See the latest delegate count
Photo: Romney Romney 39.4%
Photo: Paul Paul 22.8%
Photo: Huntsman Huntsman 16.9%
Photo: Gingrich Gingrich 9.4%
Photo: Santorum Santorum 9.3%
Photo: Perry Perry 0.7%

278 of 301 precincts reporting

Third-placed Jon Huntsman said his showing in New Hampshire gave him a “ticket to ride” to South Carolina, but he has little presence in the Palmetto State.

Nearly-complete results from Tuesday’s New Hampshire vote showed Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich tussling for fourth place with less than 10% each, while Rick Perry had under 1% of the vote.

Primaries and caucuses will be held in every US state over the next few months to vote on a Republican candidate before the eventual winner is crowned at the party convention in August.

‘Serious mistake’

After winding up his New Hampshire operation Mr Romney’s campaign heads to South Carolina for grassroots events on Wednesday and Thursday, beginning with an event in the state capital Columbia.

Speaking to the MSNBC cable network on Wednesday morning, Mr Romney expressed surprise at how his Republican rivals had ended the New Hampshire campaign attacking him for his private sector record as a venture capitalist.

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image of Mark Mardell Mark Mardell BBC North America editor

Tuesday’s result was not pre-ordained but it was predictable. The next vote, in South Carolina is anything but. South Carolina could get very dirty. Romney’s opponents might pull their punches in future. I doubt it, though.

Already the attacks have started a debate among conservatives about whether some forms of capitalism are unacceptable or any attack on the free market is un-American.

Romney is right in one respect. The only winner is the White House, which is trying to paint him as an out-of-touch patrician who has made his pile on the backs of ordinary Americans. The longer this goes on, the longer that message has to sink in.

“We expected President Obama to put free enterprise on trial. We were a little surprised to see it coming from Speaker [Newt] Gingrich,” he said.

Mr Gingrich – who won just over 9% of the New Hampshire vote – is being boosted by a $3.4m advertising campaign in South Carolina mounted by a fundraising “Super PAC” [Political Action Committee] supporting his candidacy.

The campaign is underpinned by a 27-minute film, When Mitt Romney Came to Town, that portrays Mr Romney as a greedy corporate raider whose hyper-capitalist business practices ruined American lives.

Texas Governor Rick Perry skipped New Hampshire to concentrate on campaigning in South Carolina, but he backed the line of attack, calling Mr Romney a “vulture capitalist”.

Second-placed Ron Paul said he felt his rivals made a “serious mistake” in taking on Mr Romney in those terms – using language more often heard by Democratic politicians.

“I’m a critic of Governor Romney but I just wonder whether they are totally ignorant of economics or whether they are desperate to get a vote,” he told MSNBC.

Rivals weak

All six contenders have vowed to fight on in South Carolina, but Mr Romney is seen to have crucial momentum.

Within 20 minutes of polls closing in New Hampshire he took to the stage to declare victory and attack President Obama’s economic record.

“The president has run out of ideas,” he told supporters. “Now, he’s running out of excuses.

Ron Paul: “We are dangerous to the status quo of this country”

“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.”

Ron Paul, who finished third in last week’s Iowa caucuses, told cheering supporters: “I sort of have to chuckle when they describe you and me as dangerous. They’re telling the truth because we are dangerous – to the status quo.”

Mr Paul’s younger following admires his small-government message, but his calls for withdrawing troops from Afghanistan and legalising drugs have put him outside the mainstream of his party.

Mr Huntsman, who was President Obama’s first ambassador to China, had pinned his hopes on an upset in New Hampshire.

Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, who courts the social conservative vote, could not build on his near-victory in Iowa, and Mr Gingrich also failed to get his once-soaring candidacy back on track.

Despite a well-funded campaign and backing from his party’s establishment, Mr Romney has struggled to rally a majority of Republicans behind his candidacy.

The multi-millionaire Mormon has been accused of being out-of-touch with ordinary voters and the core values of the party’s influential conservative right-wing.

President Obama is seeking re-election amid voter concern at the pace of economic recovery from the recession that started in 2007 during the White House tenure of George W Bush and ended in 2009.

US Presidential Election 2012