Mitt Romney took another big step toward the Republican nomination on Tuesday night.
Romney was expected to cruise to victory in New Hampshire—but even the former Massachusetts governor probably didn’t anticipate giving a victory speech at 8:25 p.m. With the early returns matching the latest polls, with Romney leading Ron Paul by double digits and more than doubling the vote for Jon Huntsman, there was no Iowa-style drama in his unofficial home state. The call was made early. And Romney, beaming in front of his toothy family while the crowd chanted “Mitt Mitt Mitt Mitt,” was clearly pleased with the orderly nature of things.
Making excellent use of his teleprompter, Romney delivered a vigorous speech—short on specifics, void of originality, but crisply hitting every talking point that a Republican consultant could want. Romney painted a bright-skies picture of a free-market future, and he trained his fire on both President Obama and his Republican opponents, particularly Newt Gingrich. “President Obama wants to put free enterprise on trial,” he declared, “and in the last few days, we’ve seen some desperate Republicans join forces with him.”
Painting a series of sharp-and-simple contrasts with the president, Romney accused Obama of “reflecting the worst of what Europe has become” and of being a sworn enemy of free enterprise. It was a precursor of the likely general-election contest to come. If Romney has his way, it’ll be all about a free-market version of America—as opposed to Obama’s “European” model.
Romney is now off to South Carolina and Florida with a full head of steam—and without a clear conservative alternative to stop him. Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich, the likeliest candidates for that job, were battling it out for fourth and fifth place in New Hampshire as the returns came in.