After a New Hampshire win, Romney braces for a fight in South Carolina

MANCHESTER, NH - JANUARY 10: Republican presidential hopeful and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney greets supporters outside of the Webster School polling station on January 10, 2012 in Manchester, New Hampshire. Voters in New Hampshire headed to the polls in the nation's first primary election to pick their choice for a U.S. presidential candidate.
Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Mitt Romney
Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

MANCHESTER, New Hampshire -- Mitt Romney on Tuesday night came one step closer to winning the Republican presidential nomination, winning in New Hampshire and leaving his record at two and zero.

From the beginning of the Republican primary season, Republican voters have been searching for an alternative to Romney, giving each of his rivals a temporary bump in the polls. But as the votes roll in, it becomes increasingly difficult to conceive of who that alternative could be, and the former Massachusetts governor looks more and more like the presumptive nominee. Romney is the first non-incumbent Republican to win both the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary in the history of the modern nominating process.

That said, none of his five opponents are ready to concede the nomination just yet. And as the race heads into South Carolina, where the next presidential primary takes place on January 21, their attacks against the frontrunner will only become more vicious.

In his victory speech from Manchester Tuesday night, Romney suggested he's ready for it.

"President Obama wants to put free enterprise on trial," Romney said. "In the last few days, we have seen some desperate Republicans join forces with him. This is such a mistake for our party and for our nation... I stand ready to lead us down a different path, where we are lifted up by our desire to succeed, not dragged down by a resentment of success."

Romney hits Obama hard, looks to November
Why Romney won in New Hampshire

In the days leading up to the New Hampshire primary, Romney's rivals started attacking his record as head of the investment firm Bain Capital, casting him as a corporate raider more concerned with creating profits for rich investors than creating jobs. Those familiar with South Carolina politics - like South Carolina Republican party chair Chad Connelly - say the attacks will only get harsher in the Palmetto state.

"We're headed for the meat grinder here," said New Hampshire Republican strategist Pat Griffin. "This is going to be a very tough week or so."

That said, the conservative electorate has yet to coalesce around any alternative, Griffin added. Two of Romney's more serious rivals - former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum - placed at the bottom of the pack in New Hampshire.

"Newt Gingrich can spend a lot of money attacking Mitt Romney, but I'm not sure he'll bring more votes to Newt Gingrich," Griffin said.

The Gingrich camp can indeed spend a lot of money. Casino mogul Sheldon Adelson has given a pro-Gingrich super PAC, "Winning Our Future," $5 million, the largest single donation in the history of American politics. About $3.4 million of that has already been spent on television in South Carolina.

So even though he placed fourth in Iowa and in New Hampshire, "Newt will stay in this thing as long as the $5 million from the super PACs keeps rolling in to pay for the bus," Griffin said.

Full New Hampshire primary results
New Hampshire Exit Poll
Republican Primary Election Center

Ron Paul, meanwhile, has had a relatively strong showing in both Iowa and New Hampshire, even though nationally, 62 percent of Republicans say Paul is an unacceptable candidate. Paul also has a strong war chest to draw from.

"I think Ron Paul stays in the race for a very long time, and he will absolutely complicate matters," said New Hampshire Republican strategist Mike Dennehy. "He's already complicating matters for conservatives who are hoping to knock off Romney."

If Romney picks up his third victory in South Carolina, Dennehy said, the other candidates will drop out and "then Ron Paul will stay in and start making life difficult for Mitt Romney."

While the other candidates plan to harass Romney for as long as possible, Griffin said voters will stick with him because they want to get down to the business of beating President Obama. CBS News exit polling shows that even social conservatives in New Hampshire were willing to "hold their noses," as Griffin put it, to support Romney.

"Nothing unites Republicans like these two words: Beat Obama," he said.