MANCHESTER, N.H. — Fresh from the narrowest of victories in the Iowa caucuses, Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney picked up the endorsement of Sen. John McCain on Wednesday as he seeks a more convincing win in the New Hampshire primary.
"I'm here to make sure we make Mitt Romney the next president," Mr. McCain, Arizona Republican, said at an appearance with Mr. Romney at Central High School in this state's largest city. "New Hampshire is the state that will catapult him on to victory."
The endorsement was a boost for Mr. Romney, the former Massachusetts governor who eked out a win Tuesday night in Iowa over former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania by a scant eight votes.
The Iowa results showed that Mr. Romney, who received nearly the same number of votes as he did in 2008, still is having trouble winning over conservatives. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas finished a close third.
As the campaign shifted from Iowa to New Hampshire for Tuesday's primary, the GOP candidates were retooling.
One, Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, dropped out after a dismal finish in Iowa.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who finished a disappointing fourth in Iowa, sought to reclaim the conservative mantle that Mr. Santorum grabbed in Iowa.
As they hit the ground Wednesday in New Hampshire, all of Mr. Romney's challengers were confronted with six days to cut into his large lead in the polls.
Mr. Romney called Mr. McCain a "hero" and joked about his razor-thin victory in Iowa.
"Do we think we can get more than an eight-vote margin here in New Hampshire?" he asked the audience of about 200. "I think so. I'm going to try."
Mr. Santorum, who faces the challenge of expanding his appeal among New Hampshire's less-conservative electorate, dismissed the significance of Mr. McCain's endorsement.
"It's fine. I expected that," Mr. Santorum said on CNN. "It's a surprise he hasn't done it earlier."
Mr. Santorum also raised the question of whether the endorsement by Mr. McCain, who has endured some celebrated feuds with conservatives in his party, will help Mr. Romney with the GOP base.
"John is a more moderate member of the Republican team, and I think he fits in with Mitt's view of the world," Mr. Santorum said.
Mr. McCain is a popular figure in New Hampshire, the scene of his stunning upset of George W. Bush in the 2000 GOP presidential primary. Mr. Romney, who owns a home in New Hampshire, also has received the endorsement in the Granite State of former Gov. John Sununu.
Mr. Sununu praised Mr. Romney as a "true conservative," citing his cutting of deficits as governor in Massachusetts without raising taxes, and his support of traditional marriage when Massachusetts courts approved of same-sex marriage.
"That's a true conservative," Mr. Sununu said. "That's a real leader."
Mr. Gingrich, endorsed by the state's largest newspaper, was hammering Mr. Romney in ads in New Hampshire, calling him a "timid Massachusetts moderate."
Even as rivals questioned his conservative credentials, Mr. Romney set his sights on President Obama.
Mr. Romney accused Mr. Obama of a "long list of failures," including his handling of the economy, failing to get tough enough with Iran and fomenting class warfare.
"I think he's inspired by those European-style welfare states and believes the purpose of government is in part to take from some people and give to others," Mr. Romney said.
Mr. McCain noted that Mr. Obama intends to run against Congress this year, but the Arizona Republican said the president and congressional Democrats had total control when they conducted "bailouts and Obamacare" and a $787 billion stimulus plan that failed to lower unemployment rates.
"He can run, but he can't hide from his record," Mr. McCain said of the president. He also accused Mr. Obama of "making this country bankrupt and destroying our national security."
New Hampshire has a significant number of veterans and Mr. McCain's endorsement should help, said Bob Shine of Londonderry, a Romney supporter and a veteran.
"They respect McCain's service," said Mr. Shine, adding that he believes Mr. Santorum's support from the religious right "isn't going to translate as well up here in New Hampshire."
Mr. Romney and Mr. McCain managed to forge an alliance during Mr. McCain's presidential candidacy in 2008 against Mr. Obama, despite some competitive testiness. Mr. McCain had once joked about Mr. Romney's efforts to appeal to sportsmen and gun owners by being photographed hunting for "varmints," implying that he was not a serious outdoorsman.
A poll released Wednesday by 7 News/Suffolk University showed Mr. Romney building on his commanding lead in New Hampshire, with 43 percent, compared with 14 percent for Mr. Paul, whose support slipped from 16 percent a day earlier in the same poll.
Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., who skipped Iowa to concentrate his efforts on New Hampshire, is third at 9 percent. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich was fourth at 7 percent but falling, and Mr. Santorum was fifth at 6 percent and picking up support.
"If Santorum surpasses Gingrich and knocks him into fifth place, it would be fatal for Gingrich," David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center, said in a statement.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry is ignoring New Hampshire to pin his fading presidential hopes on South Carolina's Jan. 21 primary. Mrs. Bachmann ended her bid for the White House on Wednesday after her poor showing in Iowa.
In a statement, Mr. Romney praised Mrs. Bachmann for her "tenacity on the campaign trail and her fierce intelligence in the debates."
"She ran a campaign to advance the principles of limited gov<t$>ernment that I hold dear," Mr. Romney said.
© Copyright 2013 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.
Dave Boyer is a White House correspondent for The Washington Times. A native of Allentown, Pa., Boyer worked for the Philadelphia Inquirer from 2002 to 2011 and also has covered Congress for the Times. He is a graduate of Penn State University. Boyer can be reached at email@example.com.
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