After victory, Romney says he'll stand by Israel

With 77% of precincts reporting, former Massachusetts governor holds 38% in New Hampshire Republican primary.

Republican Mitt Romney gives victory speech in NH 311 (R) (photo credit: REUTERS/Brian Snyder)
Republican Mitt Romney gives victory speech in NH 311 (R)
(photo credit: REUTERS/Brian Snyder)
MANCHESTER, NEW HAMPSHIRE -- Minutes after the polls closed Tuesday night, Mitt Romney took to the stage as projections gave him a decisive victory in the first-in-the-nation Republican presidential primary.
The former governor of Massachusetts spent most of his energized speech attacking US President Barack Obama as a "failed" leader and outlining the ways in which he would lead the country in a new direction, including in the international arena.
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"He criticizes our friends like Israel. I will always stand with our friends," Romney declared to loud applause, his only reference to a foreign country.
He began his victory speech by shouting to an enthusiastic crowd of supporters that "Tonight we made history!"
No other candidate who has not been an incumbent president has won the New Hampshire Republican primary after also winning the Iowa caucus, the first vote in the campaign. Romney squeaked to victory in Iowa by just eight votes last week.
In Iowa he narrowly beat out Rick Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator projected to have garnered only about 10 percent of the vote in New Hampshire one hour after polls closed.
With about 77 percent of the vote counted, the networks said Romney had won 38 percent of the vote with congressman Ron Paul in second with 23 percent.
The former investment firm chief scored the clear victory despite rivals' fierce 11th-hour attacks painting him as a heartless corporate raider who enjoys cutting jobs. Romney's stint as a relatively moderate governor of neighboring Massachusetts has also sparked skepticism from conservatives.
Voters responded to Romney's claim that his private sector experience would help him galvanize the weak US economy.
"I was looking for someone who is smart, knows our country, knows the financial system and how to get the country moving again with jobs," said Eddie Carr, a 77-year-old school bus driver who voted for Romney. "I think it was right to vote for him. I think he can get the country going."
Paul, a congressman from Texas known for his libertarian views, beat out Jon Huntsman, a moderate former US ambassador to China, for second place in New Hampshire, the small New England state known for its independent streak and outsized role in presidential campaigns. Huntsman had about 17 percent of the vote.
Romney became the first Republican who is not an incumbent president to win the first two early voting states, after his slim eight-vote victory over former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum a week ago in the Iowa caucuses.
But he might face a bigger challenge in the next primary in South Carolina on Jan. 21, where the economy is weaker and conservatives make up a larger slice of the electorate.
A Reuters/Ipsos poll on Tuesday showed Romney was way ahead of rival Republicans nationally, with 30 percent support. He still trailed Obama by five points in the White House race.