Mitt Romney celebrates his win in the New Hampshire primary at a party with… (Emmanuel Dunand / AFP )
Mitt Romney, to little surprise, won the New Hampshire primary. But what bodes well for the GOP presidential front-runner is how he did it.
The candidate appeared to transcend what he termed "the bitter politics of envy" by demonstrating an exceptionally strong and wide base of support, according to exit poll data supplied by CNN. He received more votes than any other candidate from those who identified themselves as very conservative, from independents, from those who said they were moderate or liberal, from those who called themselves evangelicals or supporters of the tea party, from men and women, from college graduates and those who didn’t earn a degree.
In short, it was just about an across-the-board sweep.
Granted, the primary amounted to a home game for Romney. He owns a house in New Hampshire and was governor of neighboring Massachusetts for four years. But as he heads to South Carolina on Wednesday in advance of the Jan. 21 primary there, Romney is showing that his message can reach almost every stripe of Republican voter.
His chief selling point to voters continues to be the belief that he can beat President Obama in November. Romney garnered 62% of the vote from those who listed defeating the president as the most important quality a GOP candidate can have.
Despite incessant attacks on his past as a venture capitalist and buyout specialist at Bain Capital -- from Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry and others -- New Hampshire voters appeared to be confident in his capacity to handle economic matters. Romney received 45% of the vote from those who listed the economy as the most important issue in the election.
Appearing on NBC’s "Today" show Wednesday, Romney continued to criticize the assaults on his private-sector record, suggesting that they are a form of "class warfare," and based on "envy."
"It's something that we expected to come from President Obama, but we didn't expect that Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry would become the witnesses for his prosecution, if you will, and I don't think it's helped them," Romney said. "And for them to be attacking free enterprise and to suggest that people should have a limit to how much they make in their success is something which the Democrats have talked about for years. It's not something that's comfortable for conservatives."
He was asked about the use of the phrase "the bitter politics of envy" in his victory speech Tuesday night.
"I think it's about envy. I think it's about class warfare. I think when you have a president encouraging the idea of dividing America based on 99% versus 1%, and those people who have been most successful will be in the 1%, you've opened up a whole new wave of approach in this country, which is entirely inconsistent with the concept of one nation under God. And I believe the American people, in the final analysis, will reject it," he said.
While Romney on Tuesday night demonstrated support from voters at all levels of income, his most enthusiastic backing came from those making more than $200,000 a year. He received more than half of their votes, according to the CNN data.
Did Romney’s convincing win leave any hope for his competitors in South Carolina? Well, you have to look hard to find it, but it may be there.
For voters who said they cared the most about electing a "true conservative" or a candidate with a "strong moral character," Romney was not their man. They largely voted for Ron Paul, who finished second in the state and promises to be, at the very least, a thorn in Romney’s side as he moves forward. (Although Romney did very well with voters who favored "personal qualities" over issues.) Voters under age 30 also gravitated toward Paul.
Rick Santorum appears at the moment to be a single-issue candidate. He received the most support from voters who listed abortion as their primary issue. Santorum is hoping South Carolina's base of evangelicals and other social conservatives can help him compete there.
And a blinking red light for Gingrich: 57% of New Hampshire voters said he ran the most unfair campaign in the state, suggesting that his anti-Bain crusade could be damaging him more than Romney.
With Tuesday’s win, Romney wades into the South as a heavy favorite to take the nomination, with financial and organization advantages that his rivals may not be able to overcome. Another positive sign for Romney (and a basis for worry for his detractors), 43% of voters said they were contacted by his campaign in New Hampshire. No other candidate came close to that.
Paul West of the Washington Bureau contributed to this report.