PETERBOROUGH, New Hampshire — Mitt Romney took fresh fire from his rivals for the Republican presidential nomination, but also nabbed an endorsement from top Senator John McCain as the 2012 campaign moved to New Hampshire.
McCain, who beat Romney for the party’s 2008 nod but fell to President Barack Obama, told voters here that they had a chance to help the former Massachusetts governor virtually wrap up the nominating fight in their Jan. 10 primary.
A big win here would give Romney’s campaign “such momentum that it cannot be stopped,” then carry the candidate through South Carolina’s January 21 primary and “get this thing over with, get the real contest going,” the Arizona lawmaker declared.
Romney, who enjoys a vast lead in New Hampshire, was to head to South Carolina on Thursday to campaign with McCain and Nikki Haley, the state’s first woman governor and just the second Indian-American US state governor ever. “This president we have now is over his head when guiding this country,” said Romney, who was invigorated after winning Iowa’s nominating caucus by a whisker. “I’ll go to work getting Americans back to work.”
But Romney still faced a fierce battle with his more conservative rivals for the right to take on Obama in the Nov. 6 elections – like former senator and Christian conservative Rick Santorum, whom he bested in Iowa by just eight votes out of more than 120,000 cast.
He will also face former House speaker Newt Gingrich, who blamed attack ads by Romney and surrogates for his fourth-place finish in Iowa. Gingrich aimed to put up TV ads attacking Romney in New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida.
At a stop in Laconia, New Hampshire, Gingrich questioned Romney’s conservative credentials, calling him out of step with Republican icon Ronald Reagan and charging he “accommodated liberalism” as governor. “Only an effective, articulate conservative can defeat Barack Obama,” said Gingrich, who called it “silly” to say that the more centrist Romney would be more electable.
Gingrich was in third place in New Hampshire, with nine percent support among likely voters in the Republican primary, according to a two-day tracking poll by Suffolk University/7News.
Romney led with 43 percent support, followed by veteran Texas congressman Ron Paul with 14 percent. Former US China envoy Jon Huntsman, who skipped Iowa and place his hopes on a strong finish here, was at seven percent.
Asked on CNN television whether he would campaign “down and dirty” against Romney if needed, Huntsman replied: “That’s the way the game is played here in New Hampshire and beyond. The stakes are too high.” — AFP