SOUTH CAROLINA -- Mitt Romney arrived Wednesday in South Carolina as the clear front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination, while his rivals campaigned across the state to try to halt the former Massachusetts governor's momentum after his victory the day before in New Hampshire.
CNN projected that Romney's second straight triumph in the first two contests of the nomination process gained him seven of the state's 12 delegates, based on his first-place support from just over 39% of primary voters.
Texas Rep. Ron Paul, who finished second with about 23%, picked up three delegates, and former Utah Gov. and U.S. Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman gained two delegates based on his third-place finish with roughly 17% of the vote.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum got no delegates for their support of just under 10% each, and Texas Gov. Rick Perry also was shut out by trailing with less than 1% of the vote.
With 1,144 delegates needed to secure the nomination, the New Hampshire haul was more symbolic than substantive, but it further bolstered Romney's campaign after his razor-thin victory in last week's Iowa caucuses.
Next on the primary calendar is the January 21 primary in South Carolina, where Romney's five opponents are counting on the state's social conservatism and reputation for brass-knuckle political brawls to help their cause.
The Palmetto State has picked the winner of every GOP nomination fight since 1980.
Gingrich told a town hall in Rock Hill, South Carolina, that the result of the upcoming primary will be historic.
"I believe the next 10 days are as important as any 10 days we have seen in modern American politics," Gingrich said. "I believe that South Carolinians are either going to center in and pick one conservative or by default they are going to send a moderate on to the nomination."
Santorum, who lost to Romney by eight votes in Iowa, said Wednesday that it was "silly" for anyone to suggest Romney has the nomination wrapped up.
"This is a long process," Santorum said while campaigning in Ridgeway, South Carolina. "Half the people (who) voted yesterday weren't even Republicans."
Romney is hoping a combination of momentum, campaign cash, growing establishment support and a fractured opposition will lead to a victory not only in South Carolina but also in Florida at the end of the month. That would be four straight victories for Romney after Iowa and New Hampshire, and could bring the Republican contest to an early conclusion.
In a sign of Romney's support, his campaign said Wednesday it would report fourth-quarter earnings of $24 million for a total of $56 million in 2011.
"I have a long way to go before I get the nomination," Romney told CNN on Wednesday morning. The other candidates will "find new attacks. (But) I think in the final analysis people want someone who can lead the country back to strength with good jobs and rising incomes, and all these attacks I think will fall entirely flat."
In his victory speech Tuesday night, Romney sounded like the presumptive Republican nominee, calling Barack Obama "a failed president" who puts his faith in government while "we put our faith in the American people."
Romney is the first non-incumbent Republican in modern history to win both Iowa and New Hampshire.
For their part, the other candidates quickly tried to minimize New Hampshire's importance and appeal to South Carolina's more conservative electorate.
In Rock Hill, Gingrich said that if elected, "we will not tolerate a speech dictatorship in this country against Christianity." He also questioned Democratic challenges to Republican efforts to require more stringent voter identification efforts in some areas.
"What does it tell you about the Obama administration that they are afraid -- afraid -- to have an honest elections?" Gingrich said. "They are afraid if we only allow legal voters."
South Carolina in Spotlight After Romney's New Hampshire Win
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