BEDFORD, N.H. It was another silver medal for Mitt Romney Tuesday night as Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., captured the New Hampshire Republican primary.
"Another silver," Romney told disappointed supporters after news organizations Fox News and CNN called the race in favor of McCain just minutes after the polls officially closed. "I'd rather have a gold, but I got another silver. There have been three races so far and I've gotten two silvers and one gold. Thank you Wyoming."
"This has been quite an experience for us," Romney told the crowd, flanked on stage by his wife, Ann, and all his children and grandchildren. "We thought we knew New Hampshire, but now we really know New Hampshire."
Romney repeatedly said in recent days that he wanted to win in New Hampshire but now intends to remain in the race at least until Super Tuesday on Feb. 5 when 22 states, including Utah, hold their primaries.
Downplaying his New Hampshire finish, Romney turned his concession speech into an opportunity to immediately get back on the stump.
"We hear time and time again a similar message, and that is that people are frustrated, they are concerned about the future of our country, particularly our leadership in Washington. They feel that Washington is broken.
"And they heard time and again promises that are unfilled by Washington," Romney said, launching into a laundry list of problems America faces but that government has failed to address reducing dependence on foreign oil, improving schools, protecting jobs.
He said the country needs to send someone to Washington "who will actually get the job done."
"If people wonder what direction America is going to head if they choose a Democratic leader like Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton, all they have to do is look at a state like Michigan where taxes have been going up and jobs have been going out and industries are struggling," Romney said.
Coming off a second-place finish in the Iowa Republican Caucus last week, Romney campaigned hard in the Granite State, stressing to voters his ability to beat Democratic front-runner Obama. Romney added that while he thought Hillary Clinton would be the Democratic nominee, Obama's momentum from Iowa and popularity in New Hampshire could put him over the top.
Earlier on Tuesday, during a stop at a polling place in Salem, N.H., Romney showed he had no quit in him, regardless of Tuesday's outcome.
"I know that at the end of the night I will have almost certainly received more votes for president than anyone else on the Republican side," Romney said during a stop Tuesday at a polling place in Salem, N.H. "So win or lose, we are on to Michigan, and we are going to win some more primaries, and we are going to be able to win this nomination."
Those words were echoed later in the evening by New Hampshire Sen. Judd Gregg, who told Romney supporters that it had been an honor campaigning with the Romney family and that "this strong second means they are going to be back here in November."
Despite record voter turnout that some experts predicted would help Romney, McCain still held on to his supporters in the state. He had been leading Romney in polls and had received the backing of the state's largest newspaper, the Union Leader.
Tuesday's victory marks a huge comeback for McCain, who had been written off by many earlier this year when his candidacy stalled after he had difficulty raising money and was forced to lay off staff.
Of course, New Hampshire has been kind to McCain in the past, presenting him with a huge win over President George W. Bush in the 2000 Republican primary.
"My friends, I am past the age when I can claim the noun, 'kid,' no matter what adjective precedes it. But tonight we sure showed them what a comeback looks like," McCain said summing up his victory.
Romney said he called to congratulate McCain and said the senator ran a "first-class race."
Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., a McCain supporter who has actively campaigned for him, praised the Arizona senator's victory Tuesday night. "I congratulate Sen. McCain on a hard-fought campaign, a well-deserved victory and a Lazarus-like recovery," Huntsman said.
Professor Scott McLean, chairman of the political science department at Quinnipiac University, Hamden, Conn., said a second-place finish is not detrimental to Romney, because he has the resources to continue through Feb. 5, when 22 states, including Utah, hold primaries.
But it does put a lot of pressure on Romney, said McLean, who was in New Hampshire with students this last weekend leading up to the primary.
He called it a "crude oversimplification" that a campaign is over if a candidate does not win Iowa or New Hampshire, although winners do benefit from the "bandwagon" effect where voters in others states will vote for them because of a win in a previous primary.
"There is a perception of being a loser," David E. Johnson, a Republican consultant with Strategic Vision, said. "It is hard to shake that loser persona."
But Romney is having none of that yet. Tuesday night he stressed to his New Hampshire supporters that the race is not over, and that he will "fight across this nation" onto Michigan, South Carolina, Florida and Nevada.
Kirk Jowers, director of the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics and a Romney supporter, said Utahns shouldn't be discouraged by Romney's performance in Iowa and New Hampshire.
"If anything it should energize Utahns who support Mitt to jump in even harder. He's a serious contender," Jowers said. "Now is the time to support him and help him prevail in Michigan."
Jowers predicted Michigan will be another "dogfight" between Romney and McCain, but, he said, Romney is the only candidate who is competitive in multiple states.
"McCain is going to try to turn this victory into momentum, but he is still starting behind Romney," Jowers said.
Johnson said Romney could come back in Michigan, where his father was governor. But then Romney's road gets much tougher as he must battle former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who won the Iowa Caucus, and former southern Sen. Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., in South Carolina. After that he'll contest Florida against former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who has designated the Sunshine State state a must win in his overall election strategy.Tuesday's results garnered Romney four delegate votes, raising his total delegate count to 30; McCain rose to 10 delegates in all and Huckabee to 21. To become the GOP nominee, a candidate needs 1,191 delegates.
Contributing: Lisa Riley Roche E-mail: email@example.com