New Hampshire Primary Under Way; Referendum on Romney

Posted January 10th, 2012 at 3:10 pm (UTC-5)
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Republican front-runner and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney is trying to fend off attacks from his Republican rivals as voters across New Hampshire cast ballots in that state's presidential primary.

Many political analysts expect Romney to win New Hampshire's Republican primary, but they say a strong second- or third-place finish could help keep some of the other candidates in the race.

Most voters started heading to gymnasiums, town halls and even churches early Tuesday. Speaking outside a polling station in the city of Manchester, presidential candidate and former congressman Newt Gingrich said voters will have to think twice about giving their support to Romney if he continues to “misstate” his positions. Gingrich was referring to comments Romney made during a speech on health care, when he used the phrase, “I like being able to fire people.”

Romney's statement was directed at health insurance companies that fail to provide good service. But his rivals quickly jumped on the comment.

The former U.S. ambassador to China, Jon Huntsman, said he is different from Romney because, in his words, “Governor Romney enjoys firing people. I enjoy creating jobs.”

Other Republicans candidates also have been hammering Romney on his previous career running a private investment firm . Romney's rivals alleged that the firm laid off hundreds of employees in an effort to boost already large profits.

Voting in New Hampshire got under way Tuesday just after 12 a.m. local time in Dixville Notch, near the Canadian border. Romney – who has held a large lead in public opinion polls – won two of the town's nine possible votes, tying him with Huntsman.

Several pundits say it is very likely Romney will win the New Hampshire Republican primary. But they say his national candidacy could suffer if he does not handily defeat the other Republican candidates.

Ex-U.S. senator Rick Santorum, who lost to Romney by only eight votes last week in the Iowa caucuses, hopes to also come in second in New Hampshire. But the latest polls suggest second place may go to Texas Congressman Ron Paul. Texas Governor Rick Perry also is hoping for a strong showing.

Besides Huntsman, the other major contenders for the Republican nomination include ex-congressman Newt Gingrich.

All the candidates have been seeking to highlight their conservative credentials against the more liberal President Barack Obama, a Democrat. Mr. Obama faces no major challengers in Tuesday's primary vote.