Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney won the New Hampshire Republican U.S. presidential primary yesterday by a comfortable margin — his second straight victory in the race to become his party’s choice to challenge Democratic President Barack Obama on Nov. 6.

Based on early returns with about 10 percent of the vote counted, U.S. television networks declared Romney the victor. With about 15 percent of the vote counted, the networks said Romney had won 36 percent of the vote with Congressman Ron Paul in second with 25 percent.

The New Hampshire primary is the second contest in the state-by-state battle for the Republican presidential nomination to face Obama. Romney narrowly won the first contest, the Iowa caucuses, on Jan. 3.

The former investment firm chief scored the clear victory despite rivals’ fierce 11th-hour attacks painting him as a heartless corporate raider who enjoys cutting jobs. Romney’s stint as a relatively moderate governor of neighboring Massachusetts has also sparked skepticism from conservatives.

 

Voters responded to Romney’s claim that his private sector experience would help him galvanize the weak U.S. economy.

“I was looking for someone who is smart, knows our country, knows the financial system and how to get the country moving again with jobs,” said Eddie Carr, a 77-year-old bus driver who voted for Romney. “I think it was right to vote for him. I think he can get the country going.”

Obama maintains lead in polls

Mitt Romney has sailed farther ahead of rival Republican candidates nationally but still trails President Barack Obama in the White House race, according to a Reuters- Ipsos poll yesterday.

The poll suggests Romney has consolidated support among Republicans since winning the first nominating contest in Iowa by a slim margin last week.

Romney’s closest rival in the national poll was Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House of Representatives, who had 20 percent support, down from 28 percent in December.

Obama, a Democrat, leads all of the Republican candidates in the race. Better economic data have helped him stay ahead of Romney in the past two months. The latest survey shows him leading by 48 percent to 43 percent.

“Obama’s standing has started to improve parallel with the economy,” pollster Chris Jackson said.

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