Tickets to Ride: Romney Heads South, Rivals Not Bowing Out

BY Christina Bellantoni and Elizabeth Summers  January 11, 2012 at 9:21 AM EST

Mitt Romney; photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Mitt Romney celebrates his New Hampshire primary victory with supporters in Manchester. Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images.

The Morning Line

Mitt Romney made history.

The former Massachusetts governor is the first non-incumbent Republican in modern times to win nominating contests in both Iowa and New Hampshire. After a squeaker for the caucuses, Romney decisively captured the Granite State Tuesday, winning over Republicans, the most conservative and the most moderate voters. Primary-goers went with the candidate they found most electable in the fall general election, according to exit polls. (Check out the final results on our nifty map.)

Romney may well become the GOP’s nominee to take on President Obama on Nov. 6. But his foes have no plans to make it easy on him in the coming races.

In a clear pivot to focusing on President Obama, Romney outlined his economic differences with him in his victory speech.

As the polls closed and the networks called the race for the front-runner, former House speaker Newt Gingrich released a new abortion-themed attack ad he’s putting on the airwaves in South Carolina before its contest Jan. 21. (Watch the ad here.)

Texas Rep. Ron Paul, who earned 23 percent — at least 37,000 more votes than he did when placing fifth* in the state in 2008 — isn’t going anywhere. He won over 18- to 29-year-olds and brought new voters to the GOP. His voters indicated to exit pollsters they would not be satisfied with Romney as the nominee.

“This whole effort that we are involved in will not go unnoticed, let me tell you. I think the intellectual revolution that’s going on now to restore liberty in this country is well on its way, and there’s no way they’re going to stop the momentum that we have started,” Paul told an exuberant crowd. He said he was “nibbling” at Romney’s heels.

HOW MANY TICKETS TO RIDE?

Jon Huntsman, smiling in front of a “Country First” banner that looked remarkably similar to signs used by Arizona Sen. John McCain when he ran for president using the same slogan in 2008, told his supporters he isn’t calling it quits after a third-place finish.

“Third place is a ticket to ride, ladies and gentlemen. Hello South Carolina!” the former Utah governor said. “We got it done!”

Paul sent an email to supporters early Wednesday with the subject line “On to South Carolina.” Huntsman’s list got a similar note: “On to South Carolina and beyond.”

You can watch all of the candidates’ speeches here and analysis from Mark Shields and David Brooks here.

Check out the NewsHour’s live blog from the evening.

With 95 percent of precincts reporting results, Gingrich and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum finished neck-and-neck, with Gingrich on top by about 200 votes early Wednesday.

Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, who ended her bid after a disappointing finish in the Iowa caucuses, still appeared on the ballot. She earned 343 votes with all but 5 percent of precincts counted. Herman Cain, who also dropped out of the race, had 152 votes.

See which candidates were mentioned most on Twitter.

For more analysis of the results, watch our election night special.

CAMPAIGN CONTINUES

Huffington Post’s Howard Fineman reported on MSNBC Tuesday night that Paul raised $10 million in January alone.

On Wednesday morning, Romney released a Spanish-language ad in Florida, a positive spot starring members of the state’s congressional delegation who back his candidacy.

Overlooked Tuesday, American Crossroads issued a memo defending Romney against Democrats’ claims that the front-runner has a 25-percent ceiling of support. The group said Romney has weathered attacks while Gingrich saw a “major downward impact” from negative ads.

“There is no such thing as a perfect candidate. And with Mitt Romney, Republican voters became aware of his imperfections early. That may well be an underlying reason why Republicans almost always nominate candidates who have run in previous elections,” wrote Jonathan Collegio, a spokesman for American Crossroads.

Why is this noteworthy? The Karl Rove-organized group has not endorsed a candidate, but will run an aggressive campaign against President Obama all year. This memo sure sounds as if Crossroads is prepared to do that work on Romney’s behalf. See the memo here.

The candidates are quickly moving on to the next contests.

“Make a list of every person you know in South Carolina,” Gingrich said Wednesday night in a speech that began just as Santorum was addressing his supporters. He acknowledged an uphill battle: “It is a daunting challenge but consider the alternative.”

The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza reported that the pro-Romney super PAC has bought $3.6 million of air time in Florida. Rosalind Helderman reported that Santorum’s team plans to announce paid staff in Florida on Wednesday.

An Obama campaign official who examined New Hampshire exit polls noted in an email to the Morning Line that Romney lost the middle class and lost self-identified independents by four points to Paul, and finished fourth among the voters who found “strong moral character” was the most important feature in a candidate.

In an attempt to downplay the victory, the official noted that Romney “put in six years of effort and invested millions of dollars, but he leaves a weakened candidate with the central rationale for his candidacy unraveling.”

President Obama will raise money in Chicago Wednesday night.

Vice President Joe Biden piped into New Hampshire house parties via video feed Tuesday night. According to a pool report Vice President Biden “appeared to suggest that Republicans are like ‘brush’ that Democrats need to clear aside before they can move the country forward.”

He lauded President Obama’s record and noted that the things the administration has achieved “were passed in Congress ‘with not a single Republican vote,’” according to the pool report.

Don’t miss some amusing video of Texas Gov. Rick Perry campaigning in South Carolina. Chatting with a young boy wearing a shirt declaring he was a future president, Perry quipped: “I like that.” He added, “I’m glad you’re not 21,” and then caught himself, “or, actually, 35 yet.”

And the Associated Press has more on Perry’s campaign style in South Carolina.

TO THE LAND OF PALMETTO

Don’t expect influential conservative Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., to swoop in and play the role McCain played for Romney last week. A DeMint aide insisted to the Morning Line that his boss will stay neutral, period.

“He’s not endorsing anyone,” the aide said, noting that Gingrich and Santorum remain tightly locked in South Carolina polls. (Romney still leads.)

There is no clear conservative consensus candidate, the aide said, adding: “The people haven’t settled on anyone. He’s not going to make up their mind for them.”

DeMint has plenty to keep him busy. He has a new book out titled “Now or Never: Saving America from Economic Collapse,” focused on the 2012 elections and the GOP’s chances to win back the Senate.

TWEETS OF THE NIGHT AND MORNING

@pbsgwen We’ll miss New Hampshire. pic.twitter.com/1MY6fd6o

@McCainBlogette I am confused about why Jon Huntsman is reusing my father’s old campaign slogan (and apparently recycled posters) “Country First”…?

@fredkarger We’re in solid 8th place in#NHPrimary ahead of @MicheleBachmann and 21 others.

ELSEWHERE IN POLITICS…

The Supreme Court hears arguments on curse words and nudity on broadcast TV. Marcia Coyle broke it down with Jeffrey Brown on Tuesday’s NewsHour.

Haley Barbour left the governor’s office in Mississippi Tuesday and returned to the firm he founded, BGR Group in Washington.

The Associated Press’ Bob Lewis writes about the tense negotiations over power sharing in the Virginia State Senate as the legislative session is slated to open Wednesday at noon”

“Democrats will let Republicans draw first blood in an opening-day General Assembly showdown over whether an evenly split Senate will share power or the GOP will assert a majority,” he writes.

Republican Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling will break the 20-20 partisan tie in the Senate. Lewis reported that some Democrats Tuesday “were still trying to appeal to Republicans to share power by evenly apportioning seats on Senate committees and appointing co-chairmen to rule them instead of stacking them with GOP majorities. But Republicans, infused with a handful of conservatives elected in November when the GOP achieved parity with Democrats in the 40-member Senate, have not budged.”

ON THE TRAIL

All events are listed in Eastern Time.

All six major presidential candidates campaign in South Carolina. Fresh off his first place finish in New Hampshire, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney will hold a rally in Columbia at 6:10 p.m.

Former House speaker Newt Gingrich is holding a town hall in Rock Hill at 9 a.m and Spartanburg at 1:30 p.m. Before that, Gingrich will attend a luncheon and hold a book signing in Spartanburg at noon.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry will continue his 15-day tour of South Carolina with meet-and-greets all across the state. He will meet supporters in Lexington, Columbia and North August at 9 a.m., 1:10 p.m. and 6:15 p.m., respectively. Perry will also hold a town hall in Aiken at 4:30 p.m.

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum plans to do a meet-and-greet in Ridgeway at 2 p.m. and a town hall in Columbia at 7 p.m.

All future events can be found on our Political Calendar:


For more political coverage, visit our politics page.

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Follow the politics team on Twitter: @cbellantoni, @burlij, @elizsummers, @quinnbowman.

  • Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated where Ron Paul placed in the 2008 New Hampshire primary.