Romney, Paul big winners in New Hampshire

Mitt Romney scored almost 40% of the vote in the New Hampshire primary, not a blowout, but still a strong showing.  Paul Steinhauser and John Helton of

Romney finished with around 40% of the vote, slightly better than what Sen. John McCain captured when he beat Romney to win the primary here in 2008. Romney finished around 17 points ahead Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, who came in second. Very strong numbers, but are they spectacular? Maybe not, but they're more than good enough to propel him towards South Carolina with most of his rivals for the nomination divided and weakened.

Ron Paul's 25% share was more surprising, and more impressive still was his showing among younger voters 18-29, where Fox News reported he received nearly half of the vote. Monika McDermott of the New York Times reports:

...Mr. Paul could have done better if he had gotten young voters to the polls in greater numbers. In fact, fewer showed up this year than in 2008. Only 31 percent of all voters were under 45 in this contest; in 2008, 40 percent of voters in the Republican New Hampshire primary were under 45. While Mr. Paul did win nearly two-fifths of first-time Republican primary voters, they made up just over 10 percent of the overall electorate.

John Huntsman put a brave face on his third pace, 17% share of the vote, vowing that it was a "ticket" out of New Hampshire to South Carolina. But given that Huntsman had practically lived in New Hampshire the past year, doing well over a hundred campaign events, his results cannot be comforting.

Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich pulled nearly the same number of votes, at 9.4 and 9.5% of the total, respectively. Santorum failed to beat Romney among evangelical and social conservative voters, while Gingrich's attacks on Bain Capital may well have backfired (he was attacked yesterday by major talk show hosts including Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Mark Levin).

South Carolina now becomes a major test for all the candidates. This is far from over, but Romney is clearly gaining momentum. Ron Paul's clear appeal to younger and independent voters is something for the GOP as a whole to ponder. Whatever the downside of his foreign policy views, Paul's willingness to speak frankly and talk about major change obviously resonates with constituencies the party needs to win.