MANCHESTER, N.H. — Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney earned his second victory in the race for the Republican presidential nomination on Tuesday by trouncing his competition in the New Hampshire primary.
Romney finished with 39.4 percent of the vote. Second place finisher, libertarian Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), had 22.8 percent. Media outlets declared Romney the winner shortly after polls closed in the evening, unlike in Iowa, where a winner wasn’t declared until the wee hours of the morning.
Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, Jr., came in third with 16.8 percent of the vote.
Standing before his family during a victory speech at Southern New Hampshire University, Romney accused President Obama of having run out of ideas and excuses in his leadership of the country.
“We still believe in the hope, the promise, and the dream of America,” Romney said. “We still believe in the shining ‘City on the Hill.’ We know that the future of this country is better than that 8 or 9 percent unemployment. It’s better than $15 trillion in debt. It’s better than the misguided and broken promises of the last three years, and the failed leadership of one man. The president has run out of ideas; now he’s running out of excuses.”
Romney concluded by looking to the next contest in South Carolina, saying, “Tonight, we’re asking the good people of South Carolina to join the citizens of New Hampshire and make 2012 the year he runs out of time.”
Former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich finished fourth with 9.4 percent of the vote; former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum was close behind in fifth place with 9.3 percent.
Santorum encountered an unfavorable reaction from some New Hampshire residents at his town hall meetings for stating his opposition to same-sex marriage. In one town hall, he said children would be better off having parents in prison rather than having parents of the same gender. Prior to his final campaign appearance in New Hampshire, Santorum was denounced as a “bigot” by Occupy protesters.
Gingrich also came under media scrutiny for incorrectly stating during a debate that the legalization of same-sex marriage in Massachusetts and D.C. “forced” the Catholic Church to close charitable services in those places. The church had volunteered to close those services.
Gay GOP candidate Fred Karger — considered a long shot in the race — had earned 294 votes in the New Hampshire primary late Tuesday as results were still being tabulated.
Reflecting on his showing, Karger told the Washington Blade, “I’ve done this on my own. I’ve gotten no help from any organization or big donors.”
Karger said he’s setting his sights now on the Michigan primary, which will take place on Feb. 28. Karger, who touts himself as the only presidential candidate who supports full equality for LGBT people, said he’ll be one of 11 Republicans on the ballot and thinks he could be in a position take part in a debate for that primary.
Romney’s win could be significant because no other non-incumbent Republican candidate since the modern primary system was established has won the contests in Iowa and New Hampshire. According to recent polls, Romney is also polling in the lead in South Carolina, where the next primary will take place next week.
The decisive win for Romney in New Hampshire also stands in contrast to his extraordinarly narrow win in Iowa, where he claimed victory over Santorum by a margin of eight votes.
None of the candidates that Romney beat in the primary announced they would end their race on Tuesday. Despite his third place win, Huntsman vowed to continue his campaign to South Carolina, although polls have him in single digits in the more conservative state.
Gay conservatives lauded Romney for his victory and said the win helps cement Romney as the GOP nominee who’ll take on Obama in the general election.
R. Clarke Cooper, executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans, said the “definitive victory” for Romney in New Hampshire — coupled with the candidate’s win in Iowa — shows he can “unite Republicans and is a clear threat to Barack Obama in November.”
On Romney’s positions on LGBT issues, Cooper recalled remarks in recent debates in which Romney said he supports “full rights” for gay Americans.
“While he continues to support a constitutional amendment banning marriage equality — a position Log Cabin strongly opposes — he is also on record saying that such an amendment has been tried, rejected and is unlikely to ever succeed,” Cooper said. “Romney has also taken a position that the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ has been settled, and he would not seek to reinstitute the ban on open service.”
Jimmy LaSalvia, executive director of GOProud, said Romney’s win demonstrates that his message of “economic renewal for America is resonating with Republican voters across the country.”
“Governor Romney’s win tonight is good news for all Americans – both gay and straight – struggling to make ends meet in this failed Obama economy and bad news for the president’s re-election prospects,” LaSalvia said.
LaSalvia endorsed Romney in an op-ed piece published last week in the Daily Caller, citing economic and tax policy as reasons to support the candidate. The endorsement was a personal one, and not on behalf on GOProud.
Cooper also praised Paul, saying his second-place showing “underscores New Hampshire’s commitment to the libertarian principles he has consistently championed,” and Huntsman for having “frequently talked about the need for Americans to do more for gay rights.”
But Jerame Davis, executive director of the National Stonewall Democrats, said political observers shouldn’t anoint Romney as the Republican presidential nominee.
“Romney’s prospects are looking up, but he hasn’t clinched the nomination by any means,” Davis said. “Keep in mind, this is only the second contest of many and more than 60 percent of the GOP vote went to someone other than Romney.”
Davis said Romney’s failure to win a majority of the vote demonstrates that the GOP is unable to get behind the candidate.
“Republicans just can’t get excited about him even if they ultimately accept him as their nominee, but can you blame them?” Davis said. “He’ll say anything to get elected. Just look at the way he’s pandered to LGBT voters and then disavowed having ever done so and you get a taste of his lack of conviction.”
Davis was referring to a 2002 Pride flier from Romney’s gubernatorial campaign promising equal rights that was disavowed by his presidential campaign after the candidate said during a debate Saturday he supports full rights for gay people.
The anti-gay National Organization for Marriage also praised Romney.
Brian Brown, NOM’s president, called Romney’s win “an impressive victory” and said the candidate’s opposition to same-sex marriage makes him an ideal candidate.
“We commend Mitt Romney on his impressive victory tonight in New Hampshire, adding to his delegate total following his victory in Iowa,” Brown said. “Mr. Romney has signed NOM’s pledge to take specific actions as president to defend traditional marriage. He has also called for the repeal of same-sex marriage in New Hampshire. Voters rewarded him and we congratulate Mr. Romney on his well-earned victory.”
Romney is among the Republican presidential candidates who’s signed NOM’s pledge to oppose same-sex marriage if elected president. Among other things, signing the document commits the candidate to back a Federal Marriage Amendment and to defend the Defense of Marriage Act in court.
NOM makes no mention in its statement of Paul’s second place showing. The organization had undertaken a $50,000 ad campaign to alert voters to the candidate’s opposition to the Federal Marriage Amendment and belief that government should get out of marriage. NOM had criticized Paul for his third place showing in Iowa after earlier polls showed him doing better there.