MANCHESTER, N.H. â€”Â Mitt RomneyÂ swept to victory in the New Hampshire primary on Tuesday, turning back a ferocious assault from his Republican rivals who sought to slow his march to the Republican presidential nomination and disqualify him in the eyes of conservatives.
â€œTonight we celebrate. Tomorrow we go back to work,â€ said Mr. Romney, who was so comfortable by the margin of his triumph that he strode onto a stage at Southern New Hampshire University to deliver a victory speech less than 30 minutes after the final polls closed.
A week after winning the Iowa caucuses by just eight votes, Mr. Romney became the first Republican candidate since 1976 to win the first two Republican contests. In accepting victory, he delivered a pointed message to his Republican challengers, urging them not to play into President Obamaâ€™s hands by trying to destroy his candidacy as the race moves onto the more challenging terrain of South Carolina.
â€œIn the last few days, we have seen some desperate Republicans join forces with him,â€ Mr. Romney said. â€œThis is such a mistake for our party and for our nation. This country already has a leader who divides us with the bitter politics of envy.â€
Representative Ron Paul of Texas came in second place, and former Gov. Jon M. Huntsman Jr. of Utah was third.
Mr. Romney, who owns a house in the state and spent four years as the governor of neighboring Massachusetts, was considered a favorite son here. The outcome was not only a measure of strength for Mr. Romney, but also a test for challengers seeking a strong performance to propel them into the South Carolina primary.
The New Hampshire contest was critical for Mr. Huntsman, who staked his entire candidacy on the stateâ€™s primary. Mr. Paul, whose supporters dominated others in waving signs and banners on street corners throughout the day, was competing with Mr. Huntsman for independent voters, allowed to vote in either primary, who joined Republicans in helping to select a nominee to challenge President Obama.
Mr. Santorum was hoping that his strong finish in Iowa, where he lost to Mr. Romney by eight votes, would give him additional momentum in New Hampshire. And Mr. Gingrich played down his expectations here on Tuesday and was looking ahead to his arrival in South Carolina on Wednesday.
The advantages for Mr. Romney here were abundant, but there was one obstacle that loomed larger than any of his Republican rivals: The inclination of New Hampshire to knock a front-runner down to size. He urged voters to make him the first candidate to win the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary.