Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and the rest of Mitt Romney’s pursuers still have time to stop his rise in the race for the Republican presidential nomination. But not much. And not all of them.

Romney’s first-place finish in the Iowa caucuses, even if by only eight votes, erased the embarrassment of four years ago when he spent millions and finished a distant second to Mike Huckabee. Now he leads in the polls in New Hampshire, where the 2008 primary winner, Arizona Sen. John McCain, is his wingman.

A victory Tuesday in New Hampshire would make the former Massachusetts governor the first Republican to win both the lead-off caucuses and first-in-the-nation primary in a contested campaign. “It’s going to come down, as it always does, to South Carolina,” McCain said Friday in Conway, S.C. “If Mitt Romney wins here, he will be the next president of the United States.”

McCain didn’t address what happens if Romney loses South Carolina and he was getting ahead of himself anyway. After all, McCain won in South Carolina four years ago, only to lose the White House to Barack Obama in the fall of 2008.

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