By The Associated Press
7:50 PM EST, January 6, 2012
Mitt Romney eagerly pocketed an endorsement from two-time New Hampshire primary winner John McCain on Wednesday and hopes to convert a single-digit victory in Iowa into a Republican presidential campaign juggernaut.
Unimpressed, Newt Gingrich ridiculed the former Massachusetts governor as a liberal turned moderate now masquerading as a conservative.
Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum sought to rally conservatives to his side after coming achingly close to victory in Iowa, saying he “hoped to surprise a few people just like we did” in the campaign’s first contest.
“This is a wide-open race still,” said former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, who skipped the Iowa caucuses in hopes of making his mark in next Tuesday’s first-in-the-nation primary.
But Romney is the odds-on favorite to win the New Hampshire primary, and it is unclear how much campaign cash any of his rivals has available to try to slow or even stop his momentum.
Additionally, in a measure of his establishment support, the former governor announced he would campaign with South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley on Thursday, as he was joined by McCain in New Hampshire.
“The time has arrived for Republicans to choose a presidential nominee, a new standard bearer who has the ability and determination to defeat President Obama,” said McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential nominee, and a man with a demonstrated appeal to the state’s independent voters.
Already, the Republican field of challengers was dwindling.
Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann ended her campaign after a dreary 5 percent showing in Iowa, the state where she was born.
After suggesting he, too, might withdraw, Texas Gov. Rick Perry decided otherwise. “Here we come, South Carolina!!!” he tweeted.
That primary is Jan. 21, and will mark the first balloting in the South as well as in a state that is part of the Republican Party’s conservative, political base nationally.
Iowa, for months ground zero in the Republican race, yielded an almost impossibly close finish.
Romney emerged with an eight-vote victory over Santorum, whose grass-roots campaigning produced a late surge that fell just shy of victory. Texas Rep. Ron Paul finished third, followed by Gingrich, Perry and Bachmann.
A survey of Iowa caucus-goers highlighted the internal divisions in the GOP as it sets out to find a challenger for President Barack Obama in the general election campaign.
Romney, who campaigned as the man best positioned to defeat Obama, was the favorite by far among caucus-goers who said that goal was their priority.
Paul was preferred by those who said what mattered most was backing a true conservative, while Santorum ran particularly well among those who said they were looking for a candidate with strong moral character.
Paul outpolled his rivals among younger voters and gained an estimated 48 percent share of self-identified independents, a group that traditionally plays a major role in determining the outcome of New Hampshire’s primary.
“If you look to bringing new people in, the frustrated young people that Obama had, you have to look at my campaign. I mean that’s where the enthusiasm is,” he said.
McCain and Romney clashed sharply as rivals in 2008 before reconciling for the fall campaign.
The Arizona senator did well among younger and independent voters in his two New Hampshire primary campaigns. Now, in a supporting role, he said: “Our message to President Obama is, you can run but you can’t hide from your record.”
Romney was more scathing.
Paraphrasing the president, he recalled: “He said, ‘If I can’t turn this economy around in three years, I’ll be looking at a one-term proposition.’
“Well, I’m here to collect,” he said.
Meanwhile, Gingrich’s campaign purchased a full-page advertisement in the Union Leader, New Hampshire’s largest newspaper, calling Romney a Massachusetts moderate.
Talking with reporters in Concord, N.H., Gingrich described himself as a “conservative leader for the last generation.”
“In that same time period, Gov. Romney was first an independent, then repudiated Reagan-Bush, then voted for Paul Tsongas, the most liberal candidate in the ‘93 campaign, then ran to the left of Teddy Kennedy and then became a moderate to run for governor in Massachusetts in 2002,” Gingrich said.