(Photo: REUTERS/Brian Snyder)
After last week’s eight-vote victory over Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney kicked off the nation’s first primary in New Hampshire with a one-vote margin over Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul.
But political pundits don’t expect the tally to be that close by the time the polls close.
Just like their state’s first-in-the-nation claim, the tiny hamlet of Dixville Notch also holds the distinction for being the first to cast their ballots each election.
Of the nine ballots cast, Romney and his fellow Mormon, Jon Huntsman, had two votes each, while Gingrich and Paul received one vote each. Three votes were cast in favor of President Obama.
Hart’s Location, which has a slightly larger population, also contributed to Romney’s lead by giving him another five votes, followed closely by Paul with four votes.
Dixville Notch and Hart’s Location started a tradition years ago of opening their polling locations at midnight so railroad workers who began their days long before sunrise and would often work past late into the evening could cast their votes. The state’s remaining precincts were scheduled to open at 6 a.m. and close at 8 p.m. ET.
It is estimated that around 250,000 people will cast their votes today with favorable weather conditions in the Granite state for this time of year.
However, don’t let the first couple of early precinct numbers lead you to believe that the New Hampshire race for the top will duplicate the Iowa caucus finish. Romney has spent lots of time and millions of dollars in New Hampshire and is expected to win decisively by day’s end. Yet some of his GOP opponents are saying that Romney could be losing steam if his margin of victory is not significant.
“The biggest story today is going to be how much Governor Romney falls short of any kind of reasonable expectation,” Gingrich told Fox News. “I think it’s not going to be much of a fortress.”
Meanwhile, Huntsman has bet nearly all of his political capital on finishing well in New Hampshire but regardless of how he fares in New Hampshire, he may have a different time introducing himself to southern voters in South Carolina and Florida.
Santorum has set his expectations low for New Hampshire but could finish as high third assuming he can bite into Ron Paul or Huntsman’s vote.
In the most recent Rasmussen poll in New Hampshire, Romney was leading with 37 percent, followed by Paul with 17, Huntsman with 15, Santorum with 13 and Gingrich with 12 percent. Perry was far below with one 1 percent of those polled.