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9.59 pm. My take-away? Obviously, Romney is the prohibitive favorite at this point. But the two runners-up staked a position against military hegemony over the entire planet, a seismic shift in Republican politics. And Romney remains … Romney. His speech was the kind of contemptuous, acidic, hyperbolic ad hominem that turns off moderates, independents and former Obama voters. I think he is a weak candidate – and could get beaten further on the Bain front by Gingrich in South Carolina. That several Republicans have legitimized this line of attack is like manna from heaven for the Obama campaign. It can be repeated this fall. It will be.

And the turnout, even during a recession this brutal for so many, was low: not such a great omen for an opposition party.

9.55 pm. A reader notes the core difference between Ron Paul and Mitt Romney: self-respect.

 Ron Paul is the only Republican candidate who seems to genuinely know himself, and, because of that, respect both himself and the American people.

9.50 pm. Ron Paul is now the leading candidate in Google searches in South Carolina. Hmmm.

9.47 pm. Apparently, the write-in vote might be nibbling at Perry's heels.

9.45 pm. Hathos tweet:

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Among evangelicals, of course. Catholics fled Santorum in New Hampshire. 

9.44 pm. David Bernstein tries to explain Romney's ugly, angry victory speech:

It was the kind of Obama-bashing speech that plays well with partisan conservatives, but not with general-election swing voters. ("saving the soul of America"; "apppeasement strategy"; etc.) Which suggests that his audience was South Carolina primary voters. Which suggests that he's still stuck in that awkward phase I've suggested before, in which he's effectively, in the nation's eyes, entering the general election phase, but can't yet afford to switch out of primary-election mode.

It's probably the smart call — use the over-the-top conservative rhetoric for a little longer, in hopes of ending the nomination fight early. Unless, of course, he and his team think that this is the right rhetoric for the general election, but I don't think they're that stupid.

I think Romney is that stupid.

9.42 pm. Question of the night:

[A]ssuming Paul does not win the nomination or the presidency this year, is where Paul's young supporters find themselves in four, eight or twenty years. Do they have the patience to make a place for themselves in a Republican party that disdains them? And does the Republican party have the foresight to make a place for them, or does it become the Japan of political parties?

9.38 pm. Huntsman says that Obama has finished off al Qaeda. Meanwhile, Romney's margin is growing slightly. Right now: it's 38 percent, to Paul's 23 percent. Gingrich and Santorum are vying for the biggest loser (apart from Perry, who should have quit by now).

9.33 pm. Huntsman calls his third place a "ticket to ride." To nowhere, I suspect. And check out the lipstick and sequins on the Huntsman girls! Huntsman reminds us that he held 170 separate events in a state almost designed for him … and still came in behind Ron Paul. He should have been to New Hampshire what Santorum was to Iowa. Sadly, he couldn't do it. Maybe next time.

But it's interesting to me that Huntsman's final pitch is against the Bush-Cheney foreign policy. Afghanistan and Iraq are not our future. The economy and the Pacific are the future.

9.31 pm. Sarah Palin has just called New Hampshire a "center-left" state, and says more nice things about Ron Paul. The wig is on straight tonight, mercifully.

9.28 pm. I was just thinking this when Daniel McCarthy posted it:

Gingrich and Santorum don’t have the money to go all the way, and Huntsman may not be around long after tonight. Romney looks unstoppable, but what will happen if — as one can expect — Paul continues to challenge Romney in a two-man race? You could see some interesting rebellions in unlikely places. Romney and the GOP establishment will put a lot of pressure on Paul, and perhaps his senator son, to get him to drop out. Or they might have to make a concession: a convention speech on the Federal Reserve, perhaps? (They won’t concede on war, unfortunately, but they’ll have a hard time scripting Paul if they do give him a slot.)

Paul has the money and the volunteers and the energy to take this all the way. Because he's as interested in spreading his message as he is in winning. I think he reveals rather starkly the amoral sliminess of the front-runner. And it could get fun.

9.26 pm. Silver notes something ominous for the GOP:

With 85 of 301 precincts reporting, 52,191 voters have cast a ballot in the Republican primary so far. That projects to about 185,000 votes statewide, as compared with about 240,000 votes in the Republican primary in 2008. The drop-off in turnout looks worse for Republicans since a higher fraction of voters – about half this year, compared to 37 percent in 2008 – are independents. That means that turnout among registered Republicans could alone be off by nearly 40 percent from 2008.

That's an unexcited base. And the independents wanted Paul.

9.23 pm. Turnout is actually down, it turns out, despite earlier predictions on CNN. And Romney lost his momentum at the end with late-deciders. Another reader channels me:

I never thought I'd be in a position to write this sentence, but it's a shame that Jon Huntsman served as a spoiler for Ron Paul. People may call Ron Paul an extremist, but the only demographic Huntsman won was "Democrats."

9.20 pm. A reader writes on Romney's speech:

Yes, that would be "abstract bullshit". Complete and utter abstract bullshit. Also, "I will always stand with our friends"? He might as well have added: "uhhh…except those Euro trash pansies who are screwing everything up". I'm sure Merkel and Cameron can't wait to meet with this ding dong.

9.16 pm. Summary of Romney's horrifying speech:

There is no primary. There is no general. There is only this: I am Mitt Romney’s haircut. This is my year, and I will not be denied. Everything about me is presidential. You may not even know why, but you’ve all thought it, and that’s no accident. I’ve been designed precisely for this moment. I’m a hybrid of every classic American presidential hairstyle since the 1930s. Roosevelt’s fatherly gray temples. Kennedy’s insouciant bouffant. Reagan’s lethal, revolutionary amalgam of feathering and pomade.

9.12 pm. I see that on the question of "moral character," 40 percent of New Hampshirites back Ron Paul. Romney is second by 20. The voters of New Hampshire have not been persuaded by the newsletters. And for the record, I think they're right. Paul has just said he supports the freedom of atheists! He has shifted his argument by linking freedom with diversity.

9.11 pm. I'm listening to a Republican primary crowd yelling "Bring Them Home!" This is Bush and Cheney's legacy: they have persuaded the next generation that the military-industrial complex needs to be dismantled. And Ron Paul, God bless him, is their unlikely tribune.

9.09 pm. Huntsman's strongest groups: the voters who “strongly oppose” tea party,” are "satisfied w/Obama", and believe that “right experience” is important. He reveals that moderate Republicans – like British Tories – are now outside the GOP.

9.07 pm. I'm getting that thrill up my leg as he talks of the danger he and his followers present to the status quo. It's such a stark contrast with the nasty, dickish, dissembling bullshit offered by Romney just a short time ago. And then we get to … sound money and the Fed. Sigh.

9.04 pm. Ron is speaking. Great to see Jesse Benton mentioned. And there's one hell of a beard in the back row. And the first good joke of the night: Paul thanks the Union-Leader "for not endorsing me!" Then the fact: we're "nibbling at his heels." On the cause of freedom: "There is no way they are going to stop the momentum we have started." He's a happy warrior, isn't he?

9.03 pm. Geraghty:

If my math is correct, tonight’s big winner, Mitt Romney, will get… four delegates. Ron Paul and Jon Huntsman will get three each. If Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum stay above 10 percent, they will get one each.

9.01 pm. So far, Paul looks as if he will get more votes than Santorum, Perry and Gingrich combined. But somehow, all three are serious candidates and Ron Paul is RuPaul.

8.55 pm. Quote of the night from Huntsman: "We go South from here." I presume literally. Ron Paul had Huntsman for lunch – not that anyone in the MSM will say so.

8.52 pm. Catholic voters put Santorum and Gingrich dead-last. These two warped theocons really represent the Vatican, not American Catholics. The two Mormons, in contrast, won a combined 61 percent of the Catholic vote to the two Catholics' 21 percent. More Catholics preferred Ron Paul to either Newt or Mitt. Begone, K-Lo! Your powers are useless here. 

8.50 pm. Brit Hume says that Ron Paul has the same chance of winning this election as RuPaul. Yep: a black gay drag queen. Could anything be more repugnant to Hume?

8.45 pm. Will Wilkinson crystallizes the horse race CW:

Ron Paul's silver medal is a godsend for Romney. Even if Huntsman finished a solid ten points behind, as Paul probably will, the media would have made a big deal of his coming in second, creating a sense of momentum his campaign. In contrast, Ron Paul coming in second won't get too much attention.

But shouldn't he? His strong second is the only surprise of tonight. He will now be second in delegates after tonight, and has enough money to hang in the race.

8.42 pm. Paul won the Independent vote over Romney, 31 to 27 percent. Huntsman won the Democrats overwhelmingly. Together, the non-Republicans were slightly more numerous than actual Republicans.

8.32 pm. Romney simply recites the economic stats since January 2009. And says that Obama is not an American. That's his core pitch. And it's very personal toward Obama. Romney says he is waging war on the private sector. And so the election is about saving America's "soul". He uses the Europe line – saying Obama takes his inspiration from European capitals. Really? This is a speech from the 1980s. Romney even says that it was Obama who lost the AAA credit rating. Not how I remember it. Then the appeasement card and a pledge to return to full Cold War global military hegemony. Then the unconditional support for Israel and the repeated big lie that Obama has apologized for America, when he has only ever apologized for the war crimes that took place under his predecessor, whom no Republican candidate has yet mentioned in this campaign.

We also have this constant denigration of "what Europe has become". Does Romney know that unemployment in Germany is 5.5 percent? Or is all this just abstract bullshit?

8.28 pm. Squint your eyes and the tableau at Romney's celebration looks like a chorus line from The Book Of Mormon. They even got the blond son to show up. And by the way, the exit polls found no black voters.

8.23 pm. This is interesting: among voters under 30, Ron Paul beat Mitt Romney by 48 to 23 percent. It's a tie for the 30somethings. Romney dominates the older demo. Gingrich does very well with the elderly.

8.19 pm. Tweet of the night:

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Well, we've got an exciting Romney acceptance speech pretty soon.

8.14 pm. Nate Silver notes that the early results may tilt toward Romney – because they're closest to Massachusetts:

It's worth pausing to note that vast bulk of the results that the networks have reported so far are from Hillsborough County, which borders Massachusetts and which Mitt Romney won in 2008.

Romney is out-performing his 2008 performance by a couple of percentage points.

8.12 pm. Newt has been humiliated at around 10 percent. But he's not going to go quietly if this just-released ad is anything to go by:

8.08 pm. The exit polls show a male-dominated primary electorate: 54 – 46.

8 pm. The big news from the exit polls seems to me to be Ron Paul's solid second place. He's currently at 25 percent, to Romney's 35 percent. Fox News is currently trying to absorb the blow.