Five things we learned from the New Hampshire primary

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Story highlights

  • Mitt Romney becomes 1st non-incumbent Republican to win Iowa causes, New Hampshire primary
  • Ron Paul finishes second, did well among younger voters, first-time voters
  • With fourth-place finish in N.H., Newt Gingrich hopes to turn the tide in South Carolina
  • Rick Santorum could not duplicate magic that led to near-upset against Romney in Iowa.

There wasn't much drama in Tuesday's New Hampshire primary — CNN called the race for long-time front-runner Mitt Romney as soon as the polls closed. But there were things we learned from the results and the exit polls. Here are five of them:

An historic night but were expectations met?

Call it one for the record books.

"Thank you New Hampshire. Tonight we made history," said Mitt Romney at his victory speech Tuesday night, after winning the New Hampshire primary. (Romney wins big in New Hampshire)

The former Massachusetts governor became the first non-incumbent Republican to ever win the Iowa caucuses and then the Granite State primary, the first two contests in the primary and caucus calendar.

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New Hampshire is Romney country. He owns a home there and has spent lots of time in the Granite State over the past six years campaigning for himself and for fellow Republicans.

He was expected to win big. So, did he beat expectations?

    Romney finished with around 40% of the vote, slightly better than what Sen. John McCain captured when he beat Romney to win the primary here in 2008. Romney finished around 17 points ahead Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, who came in second. Very strong numbers, but are they spectacular? Maybe not, but they're more than good enough to propel him towards South Carolina with most of his rivals for the nomination divided and weakened.

    Second place can be just as good as first

    How do you top a strong third-place finish in Iowa? By finishing an ever stronger second a week later in New Hampshire.

    Thanks in part to an outpouring of independent voters, Rep. Ron Paul of Texas captured the silver medal in the Granite State, which he calls a win.

    "I called Gov. Romney a short while ago before he gave his talk and congratulated him because he had a clear-cut victory, but we are nibbling at his heels," Paul said in his speech Tuesday night, adding that, "there was another victory tonight. He had a victory, but we have had a victory for the cause of liberty."

    Exit polls indicate Paul scored big among younger voters, first-time voters, and held his own against Romney among independents. (What do the exit polls say?)

    Paul may not perform as well in South Carolina and Florida, the next two states to hold contests. But thanks to showing in Iowa and placing in New Hampshire, the libertarian-leaning Paul can keep his "revolution" alive for months to come.

    Third's enough for Huntsman

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    He didn't win the gold or silver, but it seems a bronze medal is good enough for Jon Huntsman to fight another day.

    "I'd say third-place is a ticket to ride," Huntsman told supporters Tuesday night, adding at the end of this speech, "Here we go to South Carolina."

    The former Utah governor and ambassador to China placed all his chips on New Hampshire, skipping campaigning in Iowa, the state that kicked off the presidential primary and caucus calendar, to concentrate just about all of his time on the Granite State.

    Exit polls of people who voted in the primary indicate that Huntsman performed well with independent voters, grabbing nearly a quarter of their vote. He also came out on top among the small percentage of Republicans who say they're not supporters of the Tea Party movement. Those factors may have helped him in fiercely independent New Hampshire, but it won't give him a boost in South Carolina, which has a much more conservative Republican electorate.

    Huntsman got his "ticket to ride" to move on to South Carolina, but its not clear how much longer his ride will last.

    ...in a blaze of glory

    He was hoping for third but finished fourth. Now he's hoping to make a stand in South Carolina.

    Newt Gingrich turned off the niceness that he had avowed — and runs against his political history — after the blistering attacks from super PACs that support Romney toppled him from front-runner to also-ran in a couple of weeks.

    But Gingrich's new line of attack — condemning Romney's history at private equity firm Bain Capital — has turned a key part of his own party, including one-time ally Rush Limbaugh who compared Gingrich to Occupy Wall Street, against the former House speaker.

    Attacks on capitalism is a dubious strategy in Republican primaries, but Gingrich appears to be intent on doing as much damage to the front-runner as he can, no matter the cost.

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    A super PAC supporting Gingrich plans to launch a video on Wednesday called "When Mitt Romney Came to Town," which portrays Romney as Bain chief as a heartless corporate raider who maximized profits at the expense of workers.

    Republican strategist John Feheery dubbed Gingrich "Kamikaze Newt" and asks whether the attacks will do more harm to Romney than to Gingrich's reputation.

    Democrats are happy to have Gingrich launch what will certainly be one of their lines of attack against Romney should he become the nominee.

    Santorum surge

    Rick Santorum knew he had no chance to win New Hampshire despite his near-upset of Romney a week ago. New Hampshire doesn't have the large numbers of those who consider themselves social conservatives like that who helped carry him in Iowa.

    But Santorum couldn't even capture those voters in his fifth-place finish behind Romney, Paul, Huntsman and Gingrich.

    Romney carried those who consider themselves conservative on social issues like abortion and those who consider themselves evangelical or born-again Christian. The staunch Catholic even lost to Romney those of his own faith.

    The only segment that the anti-abortion Santorum carried were those who considered abortion a more important issue than the budget deficit, the economy and health care.

        Election 2012

      • CHICAGO, IL - NOVEMBER 06:  U.S. President Barack Obama stands on stage with first lady Michelle Obama, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and Dr. Jill Biden after his victory speech on election night at McCormick Place November 6, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. Obama won reelection against Republican candidate, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

        A black man is returning to the White House. Four years ago, it was a first, the breaking of a racial barrier. Tuesday night, it was history redux. And more.
      • CHICAGO, IL - NOVEMBER 06:  U.S. President Barack Obama stands on stage after his victory speech at McCormick Place November 6, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. Obama won reelection against Republican candidate, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

        The 2012 presidential election shattered spending records, further polarized a divided country and launched a thousand hashtags.
      • Even though voters indicated to pollsters that their financial situation is the same or worse than it was four years ago, they put their trust in the president.
      • US President Barack Obama addresses a crowd of supporters on stage on election night November 6, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. President Barack Obama swept to re-election Tuesday, forging history again by transcending a slow economic recovery and the high unemployment which haunted his first term to beat Republican Mitt Romney. AFP PHOTO/Jewel Samad        (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

        The president faces a long and familiar set of challenges after riding a wave of support from moderates, women and minorities to victory.
      • Republicans kept a lock on the U.S. House of Representatives, a crucial victory after the party failed to wrest away the presidency from Barack Obama and the Senate from the Democrats.