Mitt Romney emerged victorious in the New Hampshire primary tonight – leaving his GOP rivals in the dust with 36 percent of the vote, with 30 percent of precincts reporting.

Romney, a clear frontrunner for the GOP presidential nomination, was followed by Ron Paul with 24 percent, Huntsman with 17 percent, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich with 10 percent, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum with 10 percent and Texas Gov. Rick Perry with 1 percent.

Only 12 delegates are at stake in the 2012 election’s first primary, but candidates who perform exceptionally well in New Hampshire are often rewarded with an infusion of campaign cash and momentum. Those who perform poorly often decide to exit the race.

According to CBS News, exit polls showed that 45 percent of New Hampshire voters who said the economy is the most important issue this election year supported Romney. The former Massachusetts governor also received support from 60 percent of voters who expressed concern for electability.

Romney was the favorite candidate among conservatives, moderates and tea-party supporters in New Hampshire. According to exit polls cited by CBS News, he won 39 percent of moderates (followed by Huntsman with 28 percent and Paul with 24 percent), 38 percent of conservatives (followed by Santorum with 17 percent support, Gingrich with 16 percent and Paul with 16 percent) and 37 percent of tea-party supporters.

The exit polls indicated Romney is the leading choice among both men and women. He was the top pick of 48 percent of voters who make more than $100,000 per year. Voters who make less than $100,000 per year were divided among Romney (with 29 percent support), Paul (25 percent) and Huntsman (20 percent).

Among voters younger than 30, Paul was the top pick. According to the Associated Press, Paul also ran first among voters who cited moral character or true conservatism.

Romney claimed victory early, declaring to a cheering crowd, “Tonight we made history!”

He is the first Republican to win the first two contests in competitive races since 1976.

Huntsman told CNN he placed “a solid third” and will go on to South Carolina for the next primary on Jan. 21.

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