- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 9, 2008

BEDFORD, N.H. — A second-place finish in New Hampshire, while frustrating, is not a deal-breaker for former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who came in behind Sen. John McCain of Arizona in a record-turnout primary here.

Mr. McCain, who trailed Mr. Romney in polls last month and whose candidacy seemed all but dead 30 days ago, won the primary yesterday with a late surge here in the past week and increased interest from independent voters, outpacing Mr. Romney.

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who won last week’s Iowa caucuses, came in third.

Last night, Mr. Romney pledged to continue his quest for the Republican nomination, allowing he is in a good position with “two silvers and one gold.”

A methodical campaigner, Mr. Romney entered the state stunned by a loss to Mr. Huckabee in Iowa, where he had spent considerable time and money. He hoped for an easier time in New Hampshire, but strategists said solid finishes in the caucuses along with his victory Saturday in Wyoming still left him viable as he continues to Michigan and Nevada, and into key states such as South Carolina and Florida.

He will need a win soon to create momentum around his candidacy in a still-crowded field and a race that lacks the drama and media frenzy of the Democratic race, in which Clinton frustration is evident and Obama fascination continues.

Republican strategist Paul Erickson, who served as political director for Pat Buchanan’s 1992 presidential run, said Mr. Romney “is in it till the end.”

“I think at this point, there are only three viable candidates left right now — McCain, Romney and Huckabee,” he said.

He predicts a tough campaign until Super Tuesday on Feb. 5. “It’s a three-way contest in Michigan. South Carolina will be another battle royale. It could wind up in a steel-cage death match down in Florida,” he said.

A Harvard graduate and business whiz, Mr. Romney earned critical praise for his forceful showing in Sunday’s Fox News Channel debate, and earlier in the week seemed to back away from having to come in first, noting that coming in “silver” ” a reference to second place in the Olympics, which he led in 2002 ” was still a solid finish.

By midday yesterday, Mr. Romney seemed more optimistic about his chances here. “I’m feeling more confident than ever before that we can win the New Hampshire primary,” he said.

Mr. Romney’s campaign, supported in part with his personal fortune, has money on hand to go the distance through Super Tuesday, while Mr. McCain, long viewed as a long shot, is reportedly running low on funds after putting many of his resources in the New Hampshire primary, which he also won in 2000.

On Sunday after the debate, one of Mr. Romney’s supporters, Bay Buchanan, dubbed Mr. McCain a “one-state candidate,” noting that a win here was more necessary for the senator, who needs a big push into Florida and South Carolina as the process proceeds.

Michael Martinez, an associate professor of political science at the University of Florida, said it’s premature to rule out Mr. Romney as a contender for the Republicans. A second-place finish in New Hampshire keeps Mr. Romney in the national race as he heads into South Carolina and Florida, where Mr. Martinez said the candidate already is running ads.

“It’s disappointing for him,” Mr. Martinez said of losing to Mr. McCain in New Hampshire. “But a second-place finish isn’t going to devastate his candidacy.”

“Romney has problems in terms of where he’s trying to position himself,” he said. “Huckabee’s rise among evangelical Christians in Iowa tapped into a base that Romney had hoped to get. I think he tried to sell himself to the social-conservative wing of the Republican Party, but what happened is they found another candidate in Huckabee. This hurt Romney’s appeal.”

The Republicans, he said, are in need of a front-runner, and so far that candidate has yet to break from the pack.

That is unlikely to happen soon, Mr. Erickson said.

“Everyone is a little shocked that New Hampshire Republicans seem to have forgotten why John McCain was forced out of the race last summer,” he said. “He isn’t remotely in the realms of acceptability within the party. … Once people are reminded of where he stands on issues that are important to Republican primary voters, this campaign should end quickly again.”

He said he thinks the “Huckaboom” in Iowa probably ended Republican candidate Rudolph W. Giuliani’s presidential campaign. Mr. Giuliani was in a close race with Rep. Ron Paul of Texas for fourth place last night.

“I think that Giuliani’s initial poll lead was an artifact of having his national poll lead every day in the national press,” he said. “If there is no consensus by the end of January on the Republican side, Giuliani will still be competing on Feb. 5.”

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