High-stakes race for second and third in New Hampshire

Story highlights

  • Two tiny New Hampshire towns release results of midnight voting
  • Latest polls confirm Romney's commanding lead as voters go to the polls
  • Analysts are watching to see who places second
  • Some candidates have moved on to South Carolina
It's round two in the race for the Republican presidential nomination, with voting beginning in New Hampshire.
While most polling places in the state didn't open until early Tuesday, the first votes were cast just after midnight in the tiny communities of Dixville Notch and Hart's Location.
In Dixville Notch, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman, the former Utah governor and ambassador to China, tied for the lead with two votes each. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Rep. Ron Paul of Texas had one vote apiece.
And in Hart's Location, Romney took five votes, Paul took four, Huntsman got two and Perry and Gingrich each received one.
President Barack Obama received all the votes in the Democratic primary in both locations.
Among Republicans, Romney is the long-time front-runner in Granite State polls, with 37% of likely primary voters giving him their support in polls published Monday and Tuesday.
New Hampshire is basically home field for Romney, who once governed neighboring Massachusetts and also owns a vacation home here. Romney also has spent lots of time over the past six years campaigning for himself and fellow Republicans in the state.
While there's little apparent drama over which candidate will win the statewide contest, there's plenty of interest in which candidates will come in second or third and gain momentum moving forward toward South Carolina's January 21 contest.
The most recent Suffolk University/7 News poll, released Tuesday, puts Paul in second place, with 18% of likely GOP primary voters saying they will vote for him. Hunstman was third with 16% and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, fresh off a late surge and strong finish in the Iowa caucuses, polled fourth, with 11%. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points.
An American Research Group poll released Monday night gave Huntsman the second spot, with 18%. Paul was third with 17%, followed by Santorum with 11%. The AMR poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry finished last in each poll, with 1% of the vote.
Despite his lead in the polls, Romney remained modest, telling reporters Monday in Hudson, New Hampshire, that, "right now what I'm worried about is winning in New Hampshire and hopefully having a margin larger than Iowa. I don't think I can handle another night like that."
Romney got eight more votes than Santorum in last week's Iowa caucuses, the first contest in the presidential primary and caucus calendar.
While Romney weathered attacks from rivals, the candidates fighting for second and third place crisscrossed the state making pitches to voters.
In one of the latest polls, Paul is in the second spot. On Monday, the longtime congressman, who's making his third run for the White House and had a strong third-place finish in Iowa, touted his plan to downsize government.
"In my first year, what I would do is cut spending at a federal level by one trillion dollars and that to show it's the spending that counts and it's very important that we cut spending," Paul told voters in Stratham, New Hampshire.
Another new survey indicates that Paul is basically tied with Huntsman for second place. Huntsman, who has staked his White House ambitions on a strong showing in the state, told a packed town hall in Exeter on Monday that he has become a "shameless salesman" on behalf of his candidacy.
"Can you feel a little bit of momentum in the air?" Huntsman asked the crowd. "We're going to surprise a whole lot of people in this country tomorrow night."
Santorum's seen his poll numbers in New Hampshire surge from single digits to the low double-digits, thanks to a near-win in Iowa, but he's downplaying expectations.
"We haven't spent a penny on broadcast television here in New Hampshire. We've only spent five days campaigning here in the last month. We just came here starting at two or three points pretty much tied with Rick Perry in New Hampshire. We've been working hard and now into the double digits. Hopefully we can finish well," said Santorum. "If we do better than these other two conservative alternatives, if you will, I'm hopeful that they'll take a look at making sure we don't keep dividing the vote and we can line up behind another candidate. But that's their decision to make."
Romney tops most national polling and is ahead in the latest surveys in South Carolina and Florida, the next two states to hold contests following New Hampshire. But being the front-runner invites attacks from those chasing the leader and Romney has had a bulls-eye on his back long before his rivals took shots at him in back-to-back debates over the weekend.
The attacks continued Monday after Romney, in a speech to the Nashua Chamber of Commerce, said he wanted Americans who were unhappy with their health care coverage to be able to switch insurance companies.
"I like being able to fire people who provide services to me," he said. "You know, if someone doesn't give me the good service I need, I want to say, 'You know, I'm going to go get someone else to provide that service to me.' "
The first seven words of that sentence, "I like being able to fire people," dangled like low-hanging fruit and some of Romney's rivals pounced.
"It has become abundantly clear over the last couple of days what differentiates Gov. Romney and me," said Huntsman, at a campaign stop in Concord. "I will always put my country first. It seems that Gov. Romney believes in putting politics first. Gov. Romney enjoys firing people. I enjoy creating jobs."
"Our opponents are taking Gov. Romney's comments completely out of context," said Romney Communications Director Gail Gitcho. "Gov. Romney was talking about firing insurance companies if you don't like their service. That is something that most Americans agree with."
But the controversy fed the image of Romney that his GOP opponents and Democrats have pushed: That he's a wealthy businessman who can't connect to average Americans.
Rival candidates Monday also stepped up their attacks by questioning the former Massachusetts governor's business background. In Manchester, Gingrich tore into Romney's record in the private sector at the helm of Bain Capital.
Though Romney has said his work at the Boston-based private equity firm ultimately led to the creation of 100,000 jobs, Gingrich said Romney's pursuit of wealth exacted a huge cost.
"What you have to raise questions about is, somebody goes out, invests a certain amount of money, say $30 million, takes out an amount, say $180 million -- six to one return -- and then the company goes bankrupt," Gingrich said. "Now, you have to ask a question: Is capitalism really about the ability of a handful of rich people to manipulate the lives of thousands of other people and walk off with the money? Or is that, in fact, a little bit of a flawed system? And so I do draw a distinction between looting a company, leaving behind broken families and broken neighbors, and leaving behind a factory that should be there."
Romney fired back that Gingrich and others were joining Obama in attacking the free enterprise system.
"As we'll find out, free enterprise will be on trial," Romney said. "I thought it was going to come from the president, from the Democrats, from the left, but instead it's coming from Speaker Gingrich and apparently others."
Gingrich, who has seen his front-runner status collapse and who finished a disappointing fourth in Iowa, is increasing his efforts to take on Romney. And an independent pro-Gingrich super PAC says it will spend $3.4 million starting Wednesday to flood South Carolina airwaves with ads that include clips from a film that attacks Romney's record at Bain Capital.
Perry, the longtime Texas governor, was in New Hampshire for the weekend debates, but left Sunday afternoon for South Carolina, where he hopes to jump-start his now longshot bid for the nomination. Perry quickly jumped to front-runner status after entering the race in August, but his poll numbers collapsed after stumbles in debates in the fall.
He, too, was taking shots at Romney from South Carolina, where he tried to portray the former Massachusetts governor as an out-of-touch corporate raider with a long record of hurting workers.
Perry seized on a remark Romney made to voters in New Hampshire that he knows what it's like to worry about getting a pink slip.
"I have no doubt that Mitt Romney was worried about pink slips -- whether he was going to have enough of them to hand out," the Texas governor said, making reference to Bain Capital. "With all the jobs that they killed, I'm sure he was worried that he'd run out of pink slips."
Perry brought Bain Capital's takeover efforts home to South Carolina, saying that Bain "looted" a photo company in Gaffney and a steel company in Georgetown.
The results in South Carolina could be crucial in determining which Republican will win the GOP nomination, and the results in New Hampshire could have an impact on the battle for South Carolina.