(Photo: REUTERS/Adam Hunger)
New poll numbers indicate that Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney remains the strong front-runner in New Hampshire’s GOP primary race. Behind him in the poll is Texas Congressman Ron Paul who is slowly gaining steam just as former House Speaker Newt Gingrich loses his momentum.
The poll, conducted by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center, shows that Romney has 39 percent of the support from the state’s likely Republican voters. This is a three-percentage point drop from last month; but the numbers suggest he still remains vastly favorable over the other GOP candidates.
Gingrich and Paul are both tied with 17 percent. Paul increased his support by 5 percent since the November poll while Gingrich’s support increased by only 2 percent.
Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman received 11 percent support, his first time breaking double digits in a UNH poll. The rest of the candidates combined account for 4 percent of the support.
Out of all the candidates it was Paul who improved the most in poll numbers. This trend indicates that the once considered down-and-out congressman could emerge as the alternative candidate to Romney if he is able to hold onto his lead in Iowa and go on to place second in New Hampshire.
While a rise in the polls is any candidate’s desire, with it comes increased media scrutiny, which is something the Texan has not undergone much before this year. Paul will need a plan to confront and combat the allegations of racist newsletters that were filled under his name throughout his political career. The media has already latched onto the letters and have all but dubbed Paul as “racist” and “kooky.”
The odds still lie with Romney who enjoys broad support in New Hampshire. New Hampshire conservatives identify less strongly with the Tea Party as their Iowan counterparts do, playing into Romney’s favor. Among the N.H. poll participants who indicated that they support the Tea Party, Romney had a clear lead with 44 percent compared to the Gingrich who had just 24 percent.
According to the National Journal, “about half of likely primary voters describe themselves as neither supporting nor opposing the Tea Party; Romney leads among this group by more than 20 percentage points.”
“The biggest benefit Romney has out of the New Hampshire electorate is that New Hampshire primary voters are nowhere near as ideological as primary voters in other states,” Andrew E. Smith, director of the Survey Center, told the National Journal.
New Hampshire’s lack of party activists, evangelicals, and hard-core conservatives have attributed to Romney’s success in the state. More ideological voters have greater influence in other states, such as Iowa.
“He is in a really strong position being near 40 percent in a multicandidate race,” said Smith.
Romney appears to be feeling pretty good about his position as well. On Christmas Eve, the front-runner was asked what his Christmas wish for President Obama was.
“For the president I think a permanent vacation following the November elections next year would be great,” said a smirking Romney, according to ABC News.