CONCORD, N.H. — New Hampshire voters began casting their ballots at schools and churches Tuesday in the nation’s first presidential primary as former House Speaker Newt Gingrich kept up his attacks on the record of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the Republican front-runner.
“I think the contrast with Romney that will matter is the contrast with his record as governor,” Mr. Gingrich told reporters outside a polling station in Manchester. He has criticized Mr. Romney as a timid liberal, as well as blasting Mr. Romney’s performance as a venture capitalist as CEO of Bain Capital.
Mr. Romney still held a double-digit lead in polls Tuesday as voting began. He is hoping a victory in New Hampshire will give him momentum heading into South Carolina’s primary on Jan. 21, where he faces a tougher slog.
In a New Hampshire tradition, nine registered voters in tiny Dixville Notch cast their ballots at midnight. The top vote-getters on the GOP side were Mr. Romney and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., both of whom received two votes. Mr. Gingrich and Texas Rep. Ron Paul each garnered one vote. President Obama, who is running unopposed on the Democratic ticket, received three votes.
At the Webster School polling place in Manchester, a massive media horde engulfed Mr. Huntsman as he arrived with his wife around noon. Police, including two atop black horses, worked to control the situation.
Mr. Huntsman shook hands with potential supporters while Romney supporters chanted, “Go, Mitt, go!” and called out, “Who’s Obama’s boy? Jonny!” — a shot at Mr. Huntsman’s service as ambassador to China in the Obama administration.
On his way in to cast his vote, Pat Austin, 28, of Manchester, said he was supporting Mr. Romney for the second time in as many Republican presidential primaries.
“I kind view myself as more as a moderate than a conservative,” Mr. Austin said. He added that some Republicans have gone too far to the right on social issues and that some of Mr. Romney’s rivals are leveling disingenuous attacks against him.
He said of Mr. Romney’s time at Bain Capital, “That’s what you’re supposed to do, is make businesses more profitable.”
Bruce Perreaul, 62, of Manchester also supported Mr. Romney in 2008 and again Tuesday. Mr. Perreaul said the other candidates didn’t compare because the “number one issue is we’ve got to beat Obama.”
“I think he’s the best candidate,” Mr. Perreaul said. “I think he is going to beat Barack Obama. He combines political experience with free enterprise experience.”
“He comes across as being bought and too rehearsed,” the 64-year-old Mr. Ellingwood said. Mr. Huntsman, he argued, is someone he can “trust.”
Mike McCarthy supported Ron Paul. “I like all his views on getting back to the Constitution,” Mr. McCarthy said. “I’m a big Second Amendment rights activist.”
Mr. McCarthy also said that he’ll be happy when the primary is over.