ABC News Projects Mitt Romney Will Win New Hampshire Primary

PHOTO: Mitt Romney with his wife Ann at the Webster School polls, January 10, 2012.PlayDavid L. Ryan/The Boston Globe/Getty Images
WATCH New Hampshire Primary Results: Romney Wins

ABC News projects that Mitt Romney will win the nation's first primary in New Hampshire, marking the first time since 1976 that a Republican candidate has won both the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary.

Based on the exit poll data and ABC News' analysis of the vote in so far, Rep. Ron Paul is projected to be second and Jon Huntsman will place third.

Crowds at Romney's headquarter in New Hampshire erupted in cheers as the results were announced.

"The president has run out of ideas. Now he's running out of excuses," Romney said at his victory speech, as the crowd chanted "Mitt, Mitt, Mitt." "And tonight, we're asking the good people of South Carolina to join the citizens of New Hampshire and make 2012 the year he runs out of time."

The former governor of neighboring Massachusetts spoke off a teleprompter and delivered a new line of attack against the president, speaking more confidently and louder than he ever has on the campaign trail.

In a race in which electability was the top concern for voters, most picked Romney as the GOP candidate most likely to beat President Obama. Underscoring Republican unhappiness with the current administration, exit polls showed that eight in 10 New Hampshire primary voters were either dissatisfied or downright angry with the Obama administration, mainly stemming from economic discontent.

ABC News estimates that the turnout for the New Hampshire Republican primary will be about 25 percent of the voting eligible population, which is up slightly from 2008, when it was 23 percent.

Independents turned out in greater-than-usual numbers in the primaries, a trend that could bode well for Romney in November if he nabs the nomination. Independent voters are expected to play a crucial role in this swing state for both the incumbent president and his challenger.

Exit polls show that concerns about electability, economic discontent and a less conservative but more divided base than in Iowa last week helped shape the New Hampshire primary.

Though experts say the race for the Republican nomination is far from decided, the Granite State has a good track record of picking the party's eventual nominee. The GOP winner in New Hampshire has gone on to be the party's the eventual nominee in four out of the six past contests.

It was clear well ahead of today's primary that Romney would be victorious. But the real contest was for the No. 2 spot. Huntsman's campaign gained momentum in the past week, buying additional television ads and upping media appearances, but a weaker ground game may have hurt him. Fewer than half of Huntsman's voters said they had gotten a call from his campaign, compared to the majorities of Romney and Paul supporters.

The former Utah governor gave no indication tonight that he's dropping out of the race. His campaign told ABC News they are moving "onward with confidence," noting that he was at only seven percent in the polls just last week.

"I'd say third place is a ticket to ride, ladies and gentleman," Huntsman told his supporters tonight. "Hello, South Carolina."

As in Iowa, Paul garnered broad support among young voters and his grassroots network helped fuel momentum for the libertarian-leaning candidate.

"We're nibbling at his heels," Paul said to an excited crowd tonight, referring to Romney. "He had a victory but we have had a victory for the cause of liberty tonight."

Read more about ABC News' preliminary exit poll results here.

As candidates look to the next primary state of South Carolina, where Texas Gov. Rick Perry has already begun campaigning, Romney is likely to face tougher questions about his business background.

Under attack from some of his rivals for his leadership at venture capital group Bain, Romney provided even more material for criticism on Monday by saying, "I like being able to fire people who provide services to me." Even though he was talking about how individuals can fire their insurance companies if they don't like them, the quote quickly became fodder for his competitors.

Huntsman played to Republican concerns about such quotes being dissected by Democrats if Romney is elected the GOP presidential candidate.

"Listen, if you're going to make statements like that, you become pretty much unelectable," he told reporters today. "Because if it isn't a Republican, it's going to be the Chicago campaign machine with a billion dollars at their sails that's going to take after comments like that."

Perry, who skipped New Hampshire after the debates this weekend, likened companies such as Bain Capital -- without saying its name -- to "vultures".

"Allowing these companies to come in and loot the, loot people's jobs, loot their pensions, loot their ability to take care of their families and I will suggest they're just vultures," Perry said today at a town hall in Fort Mill, S.C. "They're vultures that sitting out there on the tree limb waiting for the company to get sick and then they swoop in, they eat the carcass. They leave with that and they leave the skeleton."

Romney, however, found some sympathy from others, including Paul who defended his rival's statement in an interview with ABC News' Jonathan Karl.

"I think they're wrong," Paul said of Romney's critics. "I think they're totally misunderstanding the way the market works. They are either just demagoguing or they don't have the vaguest idea how the market works."

Rick Santorum told ABC News' Jake Tapper that Romney's comment sends the wrong message, but he also cut his rival some slack.

"I am not too sure that is a very good message to a lot of folks out there," he said today. "It was certainly an inarticulate way of phrasing what he wanted to phrase, but it's a little bit of a gotcha."

Nevertheless, Romney's comment could pick up steam as candidates head to South Carolina on Wednesday, a state where the unemployment rate of nearly 10 percent stands above the national average.

"The Republican party in South Carolina is not based in big business," Republican strategist and ABC News consultant Matthew Dowd said. "It's working class. Blue collar. It's much more populist."

ABC News' Gary Langer, Elizabeth Hartfield, Emily Friedman, Arlette Saenz and Shushannah Walshe contributed to this report.