Manchester, N.H. – Mitt Romney has won the New Hampshire Republican primary, achieving a sweep of the first two critical contests in the 2012 presidential race and boosting his chances at becoming his party's nominee this fall.
The New York Times and other news organizations declared Mr. Romney the winner in the race just moments after the polls closed at 8 p.m. Eastern time Tuesday, based on exit polls and early returns. The margin of his victory and the order of those behind him remain uncertain until more votes are counted.
Mr. Romney barely won Iowa's caucuses a week ago, besting Rick Santorum by a mere eight votes out of more than 100,000 cast.
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Mr. Romney's second White House bid had been premised from the beginning on the idea that he could win in New Hampshire, a state he has all but adopted as his own in the years since Senator John McCain dashed his hopes here in the previous Republican primary.
Announcing his candidacy at a family farm in Stratham, N.H., last summer, Mr. Romney praised the state's voters for being the ones who kick off the political process.
“Every four years you decide who will give that State of the Union address, who will set the course of the country, who will be commander in chief,” Mr. Romney said that day.
Mr. Romney has led the field here for months, and in recent weeks seemed out of reach for his rivals, who trailed by double digits. But the contest here turned especially ugly in the last few days as several of his rivals attacked Mr. Romney's stewardship of an investment firm he founded.
Those attacks had seemed to chip away at Mr. Romney's lead after they were delivered to a nationwide television audience during an NBC “Meet the Press” debate on Sunday morning.
But polls released Tuesday morning suggested that Mr. Romney remained well ahead of the rest of the field as the state's voters began arriving at their polling locations.
Anticipating a victory by Mr. Romney here, his rivals have vowed to try to stop him in South Carolina, a state where evangelical voters and conservatives tend to have more sway than they do in New Hampshire.
But Mr. Romney's campaign advisers have expressed confidence in robust operations in South Carolina and other states. They have said they are ready for the attacks in future contests. And they have argued that they are prepared for a long fight to collect the needed delegates to clinch the nomination.