MANCHESTER, N.H. — Although Tuesday’s New Hampshire presidential primary solidified former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s standing as the Republican front-runner, it also revealed a field as yet unsettled, with many voters expressing a lack of enthusiasm for the candidates.
Romney, who won the primary with nearly 40 percent of the vote, edged out his nearest competitors Texas Rep. Ron Paul and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, who earned 23 percent and 17 percent of the vote, respectively. But dozens of voters interviewed said they were unhappy with the Republican candidates and, in a political climate that is regarded as advantageous to Republicans, displayed less enthusiasm than they had in 2008.
“I don’t feel like any [of the Republican candidates] has caught fire with conservatives,” Michael Cassily, a Manchester resident who is undeclared. “I didn’t like any of [the candidates.]”
Just as New Hampshire conservatives supported a variety of candidates, Republican undergraduates at Yale also demonstrated a diversity of preferences as the voting in New Hampshire began Tuesday. Yalies have been most vocal in their support for Huntsman, said Nathaniel Zelinsky ’13, the president of the William F. Buckley Jr. Program. Zelinsky attributed this in part to Michael Knowles’ ’12 role as the national co-chair for Huntsman’s youth campaign.
“But I think there are not-so-vocal conservatives on campus who support Mitt Romney,” Zelinsky said.
The Huntsman campaign hoped to beat expectations in New Hampshire, said Knowles, but did not expect to come out on top. While Knowles helped Huntsman campaign in New Hampshire during the summer, he did not travel to the state on primary night.
Knowles, who is also the chairman of the Yale College Republicans, acknowledged the divided support for Republican candidates on campus, citing students who support Romney, Huntsman, Perry and Paul. But he said these students will likely come together to support the Republican presidential nominee in order to defeat Obama.
In New Hampshire, the general election race against the president proved a major talking point throughout the day — primary-goers regularly spoke of candidates’ electability.
At Romney’s celebration rally following the release of primary results, a crowd gathered to hear the candidate speak. Meghan Maguire, a student at the University of New Hampshire, and Michael Crowell, a student at St. Michael’s University, said they supported him in part because they thought Romney was the candidate most likely to beat Obama in the November election.
“[Romney] knows what he’s talking about in terms of business and the economy,” Crowell said. “I like his idea of American greatness — I don’t like having to apologize for our success.”
Maguire, who said she voted for Huntsman but still supported Romney, said she supported Romney’s goal of repealing Obama’s health care law, although she said she did not know about Romney’s similar law as governor of Massachusetts.
Catherine Dzenis, Morgan Parr and Hanna Lundgren, students at Londonderry High School, said they also thought Romney was the most electable out of the field of candidates. Dzenis added that she thought Romney’s experience in the private sector — as well as his ideas about the military, which will make “no one want to mess with us” — made him the only candidate that the three of them would consider voting for.
When Romney arrived to the stage, he thanked his supporters for their help and for giving him “more than eight votes,” a reference to his narrow margin of victory ahead of former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum in the Iowa caucuses last week. Following her husband’s speech, his wife Ann Romney told reporters that if youth voters wanted a job, they should support his husband in November.
At Huntsman’s post-results rally, he told supporters that he would continue to run and that his campaign would “head South” to South Carolina and Florida, the next two states to vote in the primary election season. Katie Lanzarotto, a Quinnipiac student who attended the rally, said she supported Huntsman because he seems “down to earth” and “practical,” and added that she thinks Huntsman can eventually clinch the nomination despite his third-place showing in New Hampshire, where the candidate spent most of his time.
Students Eric Brandolini and Jake Wagner said they supported Huntsman, who served as Obama’s ambassador to China, because of his foreign policy, business and executive experience. They both said that, should Huntsman drop out of the race, they would not vote for any other candidate in the race.
Youth who supported Santorum said they appreciated his socially conservative stance.
Seventeen-year-old Ryan Nichols, who volunteered for Santorum’s campaign, said the candidate shares his Catholic background and values, and called him a “family person.”
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich barely edged out Santorum, with each candidate receiving less than 10 percent of the total vote. Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who skipped the New Hampshire primary to spend more time campaigning in South Carolina, received less than 1 percent.
Baobao Zhang contributed reporting.