From USA Today:
NASHUA, N.H. – Iowa: Won by a whisker. New Hampshire: Won in a walk.
Can Mitt Romney be stopped for the Republican presidential nomination? There is time, his opponents say, although perhaps not much. To be precise, another 10 days to unleash a barrage against the front-runner and persuade conservatives to coalesce around an alternative who then could carry the South Carolina primary.
On Tuesday night, though, the confetti cannons were being fired at Romney’s victory party. He achieved what no non-incumbent Republican has ever done: win both the Iowa caucuses, dominated by evangelical Christians, and the New Hampshire primary, with its live-free-or-die independents.
“Thank you, New Hampshire,” Romney told an exuberant victory party. “You know, tonight we celebrate. Tomorrow, we go back to work.”
After watching one rival after another soar and then crash, the slow and steady candidate prevailed in this year’s opening contests — and succeeded in the state where his presidential ambitions crumbled four years ago as Arizona Sen. John McCain surged from behind to defeat him.
If he also manages to win the Palmetto State on Jan. 21 — scoring what South Carolina GOP strategist Chip Felkel admiringly calls “the trifecta” — supporters and opponents say the former Massachusetts governor credibly could claim to be the presumptive Republican presidential nomination.
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The Romney camp is braced for what one top strategist called “a war” in South Carolina, a state known for its bruising primary politics. The TV ads and two debates are likely to be the harshest to date
A majority of voters in New Hampshire said Romney would be the strongest general-election candidate, and he was seen as broadly acceptable.
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Nationally, he is showing growing strength. In the daily Gallup Poll, he has ticked up to 30% for the first time; Gingrich is second at 18%. That puts history on Romney’s side: Since 1976, the candidate who led nationally after the New Hampshire primary has won the nomination.
What’s more, Romney is the only candidate whom a majority of both conservative and moderate Republicans see as an “acceptable” nominee, according to a Gallup Poll taken Thursday through Sunday.
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The next goal for Team Romney: a Trifecta.