Romney romps to New Hampshire win
Mitt Romney won the New Hampshire Republican presidential primary, a major step toward cementing his position as the party's choice to run against President Barack Obama in November.
With a sizeable win in New Hampshire on the heels of his narrow victory last week in the Iowa caucuses, Mr Romney has strong momentum going into the crucial - and likely more difficult - South Carolina primary on January 21.
Returns from 69% of the state's precincts showed Mr Romney with 38% of the vote.
His victory was expected - Mr Romney is the former governor of the neighbouring state of Massachusetts, has a holiday home in New Hampshire and is a frequent visitor to the state.
With little hope of winning, his opponents were vying for a strong second-place finish. But the vote left the field scrambled, with no candidate emerging as the true conservative rival to Mr Romney.
Texas congressman Ron Paul, with 24%, trailed Mr Romney, with former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman in third place with 17%. Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House of Representatives, and former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum both had 10%.
Mr Paul is considered a longshot to overtake Mr Romney. He has a loyal core of supporters drawn to his libertarian, small-government message, but his calls for military cuts, withdrawing troops from Afghanistan and legalising drugs puts him at odds with many Republicans.
Mr Huntsman, Mr Obama's first ambassador to China, skipped Iowa and campaigned in New Hampshire more than any other candidate. Widely seen as the least conservative of the candidates, he is at the bottom of national polls of Republican voters. While Mr Huntsman said his third-place finish gave him "a ticket to ride" to South Carolina, it is difficult to see how he could prevail in the race.
Mr Santorum, who draws support from social conservatives, failed to build on his near-victory in Iowa, where he fell just eight votes short of Romney. Mr Gingrich also did not rebound in New Hampshire after his once-soaring candidacy plummeted in Iowa, where he finished fourth after being targeted by a barrage of negative television ads by Romney supporters.
Texas Governor Rick Perry was also on the ballot, but effectively conceded New Hampshire. He considered quitting the race after finishing fifth in Iowa, but hopes to revive his candidacy in South Carolina.