Polls Close in New Hampshire, Romney Projected Winner

Posted January 10th, 2012 at 8:15 pm (UTC-5)
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The polls are now closed in New Hampshire, and major news organizations project that former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney has won the state's Republican presidential primary.

Early returns show Romney with a wide lead over Texas Congressman and anti-war advocate Ron Paul, with former U.S. ambassador to China Jon Huntsman in third place.

Many political analysts predicted Romney would win New Hampshire. But the battle for second and third place also is important, as it could help determine whether other candidates stay in the race for the Republican nominaton.

Voters headed to gymnasiums, town halls and even churches Tuesday to cast their votes.

Romney drew criticism from some of his Republican rivals after a speech Monday in which he said “I like being able to fire people.” The statement was directed at health insurance companies that fail to provide good service, and Romney said it was taken out of context.

Romney's rivals also have been hammering him on his previous career running a private investment firm . They allege 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.

If Romney wins Tuesday, he will be the first non-incumbent Republican to win both Iowa and New Hampshire since the 1970s, when the two states became home to the first contests of each nominating season.

But some pundits say Romney's national candidacy could suffer if he does not defeat the other candidates by a wide enough margin.

Ex-U.S. senator Rick Santorum, who lost to Romney by only eight votes last week in the Iowa caucuses, hopes to also have a strong showing in New Hampshire.

The other major contenders for the Republican nomination include ex-congressman Newt Gingrich and Texas Governor Rick Perry.

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 his party's primary vote Tuesday.