Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney scored a decisive victory in the New Hampshire presidential primary last night, offering a strong follow-up to his narrow win in the Iowa caucuses and becoming the first non-incumbent Republican presidential candidate to capture wins in both the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primaries in the same election.

Political experts and members of the campus community said last night’s results may have solidified Romney’s standing as the frontrunner for the Republican nomination, noting that a win in the South Carolina on Jan. 21 primary could make Romney nearly unstoppable as the race continues.

With 95 percent of precincts reporting as of 1:30 a.m., Romney had earned 39 percent of the vote, Rep. Ron Paul (R–Texas) finished second with 23 percent, and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman claimed third with 17 percent, the Associated Press reported.

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, runner-up in Iowa, and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich tied for fourth with ten percent of the vote.

LSA junior Brian Koziara, external vice chair of the University’s chapter of College Republicans, said Romney’s ability to withstand criticism this week from Republican candidates hoping to defeat him and to meet expectations by winning by a double-digit margin further bolstered his status as the Republican frontrunner.

“I think it shows that people across the country in both Iowa and New Hampshire, which are two completely different states … agree that Romney’s vision of the economy is the best chance for beating Obama,” Koziara said.

For Koziara, as well as for many political experts, the margin of victory reaffirmed the appeal of Romney’s economic credentials in an election cycle that will likely center on improving the economy. Though his rivals took aim at the former Massachusetts governor this week for his corporate history, Koziara said he remained the most viable economic candidate.

“At the end of the day, Mitt Romney understands job creation much better than President Obama,” he said.

The race for the Republican nomination now turns to South Carolina, a battleground for the candidates because of its robust socially conservative Republican base, Political Science Prof. Ken Kollman said.

While Kollman called the New Hampshire primary “an important opportunity” for Romney to showcase his strength, he said the South Carolina contest could test his broader appeal to the Republican electorate.

“You sort of want to know how someone like Romney will do there, because on (social issues) he might not be as appealing in a place like South Carolina as he would be in New Hampshire,” Kollman said in an interview before yesterday’s primaries.

Though the race for the Republican presidential nomination is gaining momentum, some University students said they are not paying much attention to the contest.

LSA sophomore Vishruta Kulkarni said she had not followed the primary closely because she found it difficult to compare the candidates at this point in the election.

“It’s a huge spectrum, and all the candidates are on different parts of it,” Kulkarni “It’s just really hard to compare because a lot of things they think are similar and then there are things that are completely opposing.”

Kulkarni said she would follow the election more closely once the Republicans nominate their candidate and the general election begins this fall.

LSA sophomore Meagan Strickland, echoed Kulkarni’s sentiments, adding she will begin following once the amount of information stopped becoming “completely overwhelming.”

“We’re just in a really crucial point of almost like rebuilding and getting things done,” she said. “It’s kind of like the climbing out the hole, so it’s really important to have somebody in office who’s going to do what they say they’re going to do and make strides.”

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