MANCHESTER (United States) • Republican leaders had aimed to bring a swift and orderly resolution to the party's presidential primaries, avoiding a long and costly fight that could stretch well into the spring. Tuesday's New Hampshire primary dashed those hopes.
Despite strenuous efforts to overtake tycoon Donald Trump, none of his mainstream Republican opponents stood out from the pack. Now, they are left to muddle forward with no particular momentum into the next contests in South Carolina and Nevada.
If any strong alternative to Mr Trump is to emerge, senior Republicans say, it will most likely come only after a long nomination fight, spanning dozens of states and costing many millions of dollars.
At this stage, his most formidable rival appears to be Mr Ted Cruz, the hard-right Texas senator who won last week's Iowa caucuses and who is even less acceptable to traditional party leaders than Mr Trump.
For a brief moment after the Iowa caucuses, Republicans believed that Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, the third-place finisher there, might catch up with Mr Trump and perhaps even overtake him in New Hampshire.
But after Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey embarrassed him in a debate last Saturday, Mr Rubio's support appeared to deflate.
He finished with a cluster of runners-up, in a group that included Mr Cruz and former governor Jeb Bush of Florida, according to exit polls.
Mr Michael Leavitt, a former governor of Utah and a top adviser to Mr Mitt Romney's 2012 campaign, said he believed that the window for any Republican candidate to clinch the nomination before the party's convention in Cleveland this summer was rapidly closing.
Mr Leavitt said he had reviewed the delegate allocation rules for every state and concluded that Mr Trump would have to capture about 45 per cent of the popular vote to win a majority of delegates for the convention.
Mr Trump has not approached that threshold in the polls so far, and Mr Leavitt said that no other candidate was likely to do so as long as so many of them remained in the race.
"It will be difficult for him to be a breakaway front runner," Mr Leavitt said of Mr Trump. "There are a lot of candidates that have staying power."
NEW YORK TIMES