Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney was poised to take a big step toward the Republican US presidential nomination yesterday by capturing New Hampshire, hoping to ride out last-minute attacks from his rivals and recover from a self-inflicted wound.
Romney carried a sizeable lead in polls into voting day, a sufficient cushion that should force rivals US Representative Ron Paul, former Utah governor Jon Huntsman, former US House speaker Newt Gingrich and former US senator Rick Santorum into a battle for second place.
Romney, 63, would be the first Republican who is not an incumbent president to win the first two early voting states, after his slim eight-vote victory over Santorum a week ago in the Iowa caucuses.
A more resounding win in New Hampshire would give him momentum going into South Carolina on Jan. 21 and Florida on Jan. 31. He leads in both states and victories there could all but sew up his nomination to face Democratic US President Barack Obama in the Nov. 6 US presidential election.
“You’re going to make a big statement tomorrow, let’s take it to the next step, give me the boost I need, I hope,” Romney said in Bedford on Monday night at his final rally of the day.
It was unclear how much damage had been done by a mess of his own making in which Romney declared “I like being able to fire people,” in addressing his desire for greater competition between health insurance companies.
His opponents, Republican and Democratic alike, quickly seized on the comment as evidence of an out-of-touch politician and coupled it with attacks over his record at Bain Capital, a firm that bought companies and restructured them.
“Governor Romney enjoys firing people. I enjoy creating jobs,” Huntsman said.