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New Hampshire Hosts First-In-The-Nation Primary


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm David Greene.


And I'm Steve Inskeep in Manchester, New Hampshire. Let's take one last listen to the candidates contending in the New Hampshire presidential primary. Just before today's voting, five candidates crossed this state. It's a predictable ritual, politicians chasing voters and chased by reporters. The results are not entirely predictable, though Mitt Romney is a heavy favorite to win. We're going to hear from our correspondents with all the campaigns, starting with NPR's Ari Shapiro, who's following Mitt Romney.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: Mitt Romney probably did not expect to spend part of his last day on the New Hampshire campaign trail answering reporters' questions. And he certainly didn't expect to be saying...

MITT ROMNEY: Things always be taken out of context.

SHAPIRO: The quote that people took out of context was this...

ROMNEY: I like being able to fire people.

SHAPIRO: It sounds like an affirmation of all the negative stereotypes about Mitt Romney as a heartless capitalist who made a fortune laying people off. Pretty damning, until you hear all of what he said. He was answering a question about health insurance.

ROMNEY: I want individuals to have their own insurance. That means the insurance company will have an incentive to keep you healthy. It also means that if you don't like what they do, you could fire them. I like being able to fire people who provide services to me.

SHAPIRO: Romney gathered reporters to explain that the other Republicans hammering him for his comments were distorting what he said. Then he went to an evening rally for one final call to action at a packed middle school gymnasium. He reminded voters that his family has been coming to this state for the last 40 years.

ROMNEY: What a way to go into the primary tomorrow night. I hope that you're going to be able to give me a bigger margin of victory than the eight votes that I got in Iowa. You think we can do that? Yeah.

SHAPIRO: Even Romney's opponents don't believe his gaffe will knock him out of first place here in New Hampshire. But they hope they can at least hobble his march into South Carolina, which votes next.

ROBERT SMITH, BYLINE: I'm Robert Smith following Ron Paul. Everyone's got to eat breakfast, right? So Paul invited the media along yesterday to watch him chow down at the Moe Joe Diner.


SMITH: Bad move.


SMITH: TV cameras mobbed Ron Paul as he was heading for his table.

RON PAUL: Right now I'm annoyed by lights that are blinding me.


SMITH: Paul tried to banter with diners as the crowd pushed him along.

PAUL: Hello. How you doing?


PAUL: Good to meet you, everybody.

SMITH: But then noticed something.

PAUL: A lot of young people out here today.

SMITH: Yeah. There were a lot of young people. The tables were filled with high school students. It turns out they were all bussed in from the same place.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Franklin, Franklin High School. Franklin, Massachusetts.

SMITH: Every kid here was from Massachusetts. There wasn't an actual primary voter in the room. Their political science teacher, John Layden, had called ahead.

JOHN LAYDEN: We have - I think it's 94 with us.

SMITH: So you called up, asked somebody for a reservation...


SMITH: ...for 7:30 in the morning for 94 people.

LAYDEN: Yes. Yeah.

SMITH: Ron Paul needs actual New Hampshire voters in order to win this primary.

LAYDEN: Right.

SMITH: Do you feel bad taking up his entire event with students from Massachusetts?

LAYDEN: I don't feel bad. Anyone else can do the same thing.

SMITH: Ron Paul would have loved that free market answer. Except he gave up trying to make it through the crowd of reporters and he headed straight for the door. How's that for a good high school lesson in modern media and politics?

TOVIA SMITH, BYLINE: I'm Tovia Smith following Jon Huntsman's campaign. Mitt Romney might have thought he'd be helping himself by knocking Huntsman for serving as ambassador to China for the Obama administration, but it turns out the attack may be one of the best things that ever happened to Huntsman.


JON HUNTSMAN: Can you feel the energy out there, ladies and gentlemen?


SMITH: It's not only brought Huntsman the attention he desperately needs, it's also allowed him to show a more animated and less diplomatic side that apparently voters wanted.


HUNTSMAN: I think we're reminded of a certain other candidate in the race.


HUNTSMAN: That our team and our movement is here to put our country first. We're tired of people putting politics first.


SMITH: It's become Huntsman biggest applause line at every stop, and is helping him win converts, like 74-year-old independent Don Robie.

DON ROBIE: Oh yeah. That was - I loved that.

SMITH: Undecided two days ago, last night Robie carried home a Huntsman yard sign.

ROBIE: I've gone through the whole gamut listening every night to all the rest of them, and I just decided, hey, I think he's got it.

SMITH: And Robie voted for President Obama four years ago. Huntsman says his crossover appeal to more moderate voters makes him exactly what the GOP needs.

JOHN HUNTSMAN: Let's face it. You know, in order for someone to beat Barack Obama this year, that's just the plain math.

SMITH: An outright win in today's primary may be out of reach, but Huntsman is hoping for enough of a showing here to stay in the race.

ANDREA SEABROOK, BYLINE: I'm Andrea Seabrook following Newt Gingrich. In Iowa, the former speaker promised to run a completely positive campaign. In New Hampshire, not so much.

NEWT GINGRICH: If somebody's going to crumble, they better crumble before the nomination. You don't want to end up in September with a nominee who's been untested and can't stand it.

SEABROOK: He's talking about Mitt Romney. Gingrich talked a lot about Mitt Romney in the last day before the New Hampshire primary.

GINGRICH: The fact is there are legitimate questions. There are going to be more of those questions and at some point Governor Romney is going to have answer them.

SEABROOK: Who is raising these questions? Well, among others, it's the pro-Gingrich super-PAC called Winning Our Future. It's airing a negative ad - really a negative movie - about Romney's time running the investment firm Bain Capital.


SEABROOK: At a rally in downtown Manchester, Gingrich said very soon Romney's going to have to have a long press conference to answer these questions.

GINGRICH: He's the one who went around here and said, look, I've had these 20 years experience. Fine. Now, let's talk about the 20 years experience.

SEABROOK: Whatever happens in New Hampshire today, the former speaker hopes to knock Romney off balance as the candidates heads south toward more Gingrich-friendly territory.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: This is Don Gonyea following former Senator Rick Santorum, who spent the day bouncing from football field to Elks lodge to diner to American Legion hall. Santorum's show is suddenly playing in primetime after nearly winning Iowa, but bright lights can bring out campaign bugs, like bad sound systems making the candidate hard to hear.

RICK SANTORUM: Is this bothering people more than helping? No? It's okay? Okay. Because if it is, I'll stop, 'cause it's bothering me.

GONYEA: Or last night's big final rally at a Manchester restaurant where a large group of reporters was told no recording gear would be allowed. We eventually got in carrying a smart phone that we held up to a speaker as Santorum spoke.

SANTORUM: Thank you. Thank you.

GONYEA: All this week, Santorum has tried to downplay the social issues that worked so well for him in Iowa. New Hampshire Republicans care more about fiscal issues. It hasn't always worked, but yesterday he was getting some of that momentum back, hitting his stride again.

SANTORUM: I'm asking you for 24 hours of effort to pull off a huge surprise here in New Hampshire to give us that boost, to show that the momentum is continuing so we can go down to South Carolina, kick a little butt down in South Carolina, and move on to Florida and keep kicking.

GONYEA: Candidate Santorum was the guy getting the big media bump last week. Tonight the bright lights might be shining elsewhere, highlighting a new hero. I'm Don Gonyea, Manchester.

GREENE: So there we are, five candidates making strong showings, and the voting is underway this morning in New Hampshire. Some results have already been tallied. The first votes in the state were counted just after midnight, about three and a half hours north of Manchester in little Dixville Notch. And it didn't take long because there were only nine registered voters. Since 1960, the tiny town has cast its primary votes at midnight. In fact, that year also had nine ballots. Needless to say, there were many more reporters in Dixville Notch last night than actual voters. Three of the nine votes cast went to President Obama. And here is a town official announcing the Republican breakdown on CNN.

: There was one vote cast for Newt Gingrich. There was two votes cast for Jon Huntsman. There was one vote cast for Ron Paul. And there were two votes cast for Mitt Romney.

GREENE: Okay, so that's a tie between Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman with a vote apiece for Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul. Dixville Notch, we should say, has correctly predicted the Republican nominee in every election since 1960. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.