Having squeaked by in the Iowa caucuses and squashed his GOP presidential hopeful rivals Tuesday in New Hampshire, Mitt Romney appears irrevocably on his way to a coronation in Tampa, Fla.

Romney won New Hampshire decisively with 95,669 votes or 39.4 percent, improving by more than seven percent on his tally from four years ago. Ron Paul, who came in third in 2008, following Romney and John McCain, moved up a notch to second place this time with 22.8 percent of the vote.

Former ambassador to China Jon Huntsman was in the show position with 16.8 percent. Newt Gingrich tallied 9.4 percent; Rick Santorum, who gave Romney a run for his money in Iowa, garnered 9.3 percent; and Rick Perry, in perhaps his last hurrah, got only 0.7 percent of the total vote.

Indeed, the next stop is the South Carolina primary on Jan. 21, and all of the candidates are looking down the road with some trepidation. If Romney wins there, it will mark another failure on the part of his adversaries to unite and derail his bid. He clearly beat back his detractors in New Hampshire when they brought up his guffawing about loving “to fire people.”

But how his Bain Capital connection, Mormonism and health care plan play in South Carolina will depend on how the independents and evangelicals weigh in. Romney could be the beneficiary of a three-way split among the Christians, with Santorum, Paul and Perry divvying up their vote. He may get a similar advantage among Tea Party members.

During his victory speech, Romney kept his eyes on the big prize: defeating President Barack Obama. Of course, this didn’t mean he had completely set aside his immediate opponents. “I expect them to fall by the wayside eventually for lack of voters,” he said-and for lack of money, as well.

Romney said the attacks launched by his fellow Republicans, particularly over his affiliation with Bain Capital, will provide political capital for the Obama campaign, which is already gearing up with ads and super PAC backing.

“I understand Obama is going to try to put free enterprise on trial…and Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry will be witnesses for the prosecution,” Romney told USA Today on Wednesday.

As for the upcoming showdown in South Carolina, Romney, attempting to tamp down his chances there, said, “I know it’s an uphill battle.” To some extent, he may have been reflecting on his outcome there four years ago, when he came in fourth.

If a rendezvous in Tampa seems inevitable, so do the attack ads that will greet Romney and his team when they hit the ground in South Carolina. Gingrich, in particular, has promised an all-out assault with rounds of withering announcements that Romney cannot be “trusted.” Romney will be similarly assailed by Perry and Santorum as they vie for what could be their last gasp among evangelicals.

Yep, it looks like a wing and a prayer in South Carolina-Romney on wings to Florida and the others on their knees praying.