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McCain Tops Romney in N.H. GOP Primary

Sen. John McCain of Arizona has won New Hampshire's Republican primary, echoing his 2000 victory over George W. Bush in the Granite State.

The solid victory gives McCain a boost over former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, reviving McCain's bid for the White House and further muddying the waters of the GOP race.

"We showed the people of this country what a real comeback looks like," McCain told a gathering of supporters who chanted "Mac is back" to celebrate his victory. "We're going to move on to Michigan and South Carolina and win the nomination."

Romney came in second, despite having funneled more money into this race than any other GOP candidate.

"I've gotten two silvers so far and one gold — thank you, Wyoming," Romney said during his concession speech, referring to his win in Wyoming's Jan. 5 GOP caucuses.

Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas and surprise Republican winner of the Iowa caucuses, finished third. Polls had shown Huckabee trailing McCain and Romney in New Hampshire, but he greeted his third-place finish as enough to keep him going until South Carolina's Jan. 19 GOP primary.

"In Michigan, in South Carolina, in Florida ... what you helped us continue will be carried right on through, and it won't be long we're going to be able to secure the nomination and on to the White House and on to leading America," he said.

What the Exit Polls Revealed

According to exit polls, a third of Republican primary voters called the economy the largest issue facing the country, followed by immigration, Iraq and terrorism.

Fifty-one percent of Republicans primary voters said they would like the next leader to be more conservative than President Bush. Two-thirds of them approved of the Iraq war.

But McCain largely owed his win to independent voters, moderates and New Hampshire residents dissatisfied with President Bush, exit polls showed.

Voting was brisk all day, with preliminary exit polls projecting a statewide record turnout of 500,000 voters, 220,000 of them in the Republican primary and 280,000 in the Democratic. Turnout approached 50 percent of New Hampshire's voting age population, shattering a previous record set in 2000.

The results from the traditional midnight voting bastion of Dixville Notch, N.H., foreshadowed the outcome of the Republican primary: Four votes went to McCain and two to Romney.

"It has all the earmarks of a landslide with the Dixville Notch vote," McCain quipped early Tuesday as he boarded his campaign bus.

Voters: Experience, Directness or Business Savvy?

Throughout the day, the Republican primary seemed close.

In Milford, N.H., voter Roberta Barrett planned to support McCain as she did in 2000.

"He has it this time because of his experience, because he's consistent in his positions, and because he says what he believes, not what he thinks is popular," she said.

But for other voters, experience seemed less significant than the need for change. Republican Carmen Gilbert voted for Mitt Romney, saying, "He is someone who could "take charge, turn things around. ... [H]e has taken small businesses that were in shambles and turned them around and done good things."

Other Republican voters, such as Richard Reeve, were undecided, even on primary day. Reeve could not decide between McCain or Huckabee because he thought both were "straight shooters." Reeve did not feel that way about Romney.

"They use the term flip-flopping these days, and that's the biggest turnoff. Rather than flop, McCain explains what he did, why he did it, and doesn't change where he's going," Reeve said.

In the days leading up to the primary, McCain was leading Romney in most polls.

The McCain campaign also received a boost in late December with the endorsement of The Manchester Union Leader, the largest newspaper in the state. At the same time, the Concord Monitor ran a blistering editorial urging Romney's defeat. Once viewed as the clear front-runner in both Iowa and New Hampshire, Romney did manage to win Saturday's caucuses in Wyoming.

After winning in Iowa, Huckabee switched his campaign pitch from a religious to an economic one in more secular New Hampshire. But he was never considered competitive there, and is instead looking to regain his momentum in the Jan. 19 primary in South Carolina.

GOP Candidates Look Ahead

Now the focus is on post-New Hampshire. Romney and McCain planned to go straight to Michigan, where they both have already begun running television advertisements. (Romney also hoped to gain traction there because his father previously served as a popular governor of Michigan.)

Huckabee was scheduled to travel to South Carolina for that state's Republican primary on Jan. 19, where he hoped to appeal to the state's religious conservatives.

Former mayor of New York Rudy Giuliani planned to blanket Florida, a state that will not hold its primary until Jan. 29. Following his New Hampshire primary loss, Giuliani said, "This is the kickoff in what's going to be a very long and very tough game, but one that we're going to come out, and by the time it's over with — by Feb. 5 — it's going to be clear that we're going to be the nominee of the party."

Former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson was already in South Carolina, staking his ground.

With NPR Staff and Associated Press Reports

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Nancy Cook

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