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First votes of New Hampshire primary see Romney under pressure

Voters are heading to the polls in the first presidential primary of the campaign to win the Republican nomination.

Votes are counted in the tiny village of Dixville Notch
Votes are counted in the tiny village of Dixville Notch
Image: Matt Rourke/AP/Press Association Images

REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL frontrunner Mitt Romney has come under heavy fire from his rivals as voters head to the polls in the first primary of the Republican campaign in New Hampshire.

The New Hampshire event – along with last week’s vote in Iowa, a more informal caucus – is seen as crucial in shaping the course of the campaign to come.

Romney, a relatively moderate former governor of neighbouring Massachusetts, is considered the heavy favourite after narrowly winning the vote in much more conservative Iowa.

But his rivals, including Iowa second-placer Rick Santorum, libertarian Ron Paul, Jon Huntsman, Texas governor Rick Perry and former House speaker Newt Gingrich, have been doing their best to narrow his lead.

Yesterday they seized on a comment in which Romney said “I like being able to fire people,” saying it showed the wealthy businessman was out of touch with everyday Americans, the LA Times reports.

Romney made the comment in the context of the right of individuals to choose their own health services and reject ones they did not like.

There was mixed news for Romney in the tiny village of Dixville Notch – famed for successfully predicted the Republican candidate in every election since 1960.

Nine voters there cast their ballots in the traditional vote just after midnight – polls open from 12.00 to 12.01am, for reasons explained by WNYC here.

Romney and Huntsman received two votes each. Coming in second with one vote apiece were Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul.

This AP video shows the first ballots being cast (AssociatedPress via YouTube):

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The primary is taking place as a record number of Americans rejected both Democrats and Republicans to officially identify themselves as independents.

According to a Gallup poll, 40 per cent of people now say they are independent, against 31 per cent Democrat and 27 per cent Republican.

In some primaries, only registered Democrats or Republicans can vote for their party’s presidential candidate. However, it is sometimes possible to register on the day of the ballot.

- Additional reporting from AP

More: Full coverage of the US presidential campaign on>

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Michael Freeman

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