NBC News

Nightly News   |  January 04, 2012

For GOP hopefuls, race moves to NH

The field of GOP presidential candidates got lighter by one after the Iowa caucuses, as the focus shifted all the way to New Hampshire. NBC’s Peter Alexander reports.

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>>> good evening. what a wild start to the gop presidential primary season. it was a long night, as close as they get, and perfectly in keeping with the wild swings of this campaign so far. and today, two different campaigns woke up to the ultimate good news/bad news equation in politics. the good news for mitt romney , he won in iowa . the bad news, it was just by eight votes and he couldn't crack 25%, just like four years ago and millions of dollars ago. good news for rick santorum , a huge second place finish for him. he came within eight votes of winning and now he's got to go compete with a fraction of the money and the staff of the bigger campaigns. it was such a wild night . it went so late the des moines register went through half a dozen dummy front pages for just about any outcome until we knew the outcome was going to hinge on eight votes and they could finally put out a morning paper front page . today the field of candidates got lighter by one and today the focus shifted to the east to new hampshire . the rest of the campaign begins now and our coverage begins tonight with nbc's peter alexander in manchester, new hampshire . period of time, good evening.

>> reporter: brian, good evening to you. after a long night, mitt romney hustled here to new hampshire looking to translate the narrow victory into big momentum in the state announcing a key endorsement from a man who has won two republican primaries here in the past. mitt romney with his wife ann at his side, all smiles as they arrived in new hampshire after a dramatic late night iowa win.

>> get any sleep last night?

>> no.

>> reporter: romney 's slim margin of just eight votes over rick santorum exposed sharp divisions among republicans.

>> many of the most conservative elements of the party have not embraced him. they will not embrace him. they do not trust him. so he has a long way to go to get conservatives in his column.

>> reporter: the gop 's 2008 presidential nominee , john mccain , today endorsed his former rival arguing new hampshire where romney holds a wide lead will erase any doubt that romney should be the republican nominee.

>> we will get an overwhelming vote that will catapult this candidate to the white house .

>> reporter: while the campaign hoped for a triumphant arrival here, romney was met by a series of tough, combative questions at this town hall organized by his own campaign.

>> hang on. it's my turn. you had your turn.

>> reporter: newt gingrich made it clear he will step up his fight despite the disappointing fourth place finish.

>> will we want a massachusetts moderate who will be good at managing the decay.

>> reporter: today gingrich welcomed romney to the granite state by calling him a timid massachusetts moderate while continuing to denounce the barrage of negative campaign ads from romney 's supporters.

>> well, it's pretty clear. he's not truthful about his record in massachusetts and his background. he's not truthful about his pac which has his staff running it and his millionaire friends donating to it, although in secret.

>> reporter: romney faces challenges on two fronts. gingrich and santorum on the right, huntsman on the left. today huntsman dismissed both the iowa results and the gop frontrunner.

>> you can get all the doles and all the mccains in the world, as romney probably will. but in the end, nobody cares .

>> reporter: for his part ron paul took the day off following his third place finish here in iowa where he nearly tripled his vote total from four years ago showing his message may prove a significant factor in the race.

>> peter alexander in manchester starting off our coverage tonight. peter,