Messy NH free-for-all awaits if Ron Paul wins Iowa

Steven Nelson Associate Editor
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If polls prove accurate and Texas Rep. Ron Paul wins the Iowa caucuses on Jan. 3, political observers expect a free-for-all going into the Jan. 10 New Hampshire primary.

An Iowa victory doesn’t necessarily mean Paul’s support in the Granite State would balloon, pollster John Zogby told The Daily Caller.

Zogby believes two factors will influence the race after Iowa. First, whether any candidates drop out of the race — an outcome which he considers probable. And more significantly, how badly former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is damaged if he performs poorly in the Hawkeye State.

After Iowa, Paul could receive a bump from former supporters of Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, said Zogby. “They, at least, are damaged if they do poorly in Iowa — frankly, the same with Rick Perry,” he told TheDC. “That’s where Paul could possibly increase his support.”

Zogby doesn’t believe supporters of former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman — who is currently polling at around 10 percent in New Hampshire — would cross over to support Ron Paul. Huntsman has decided to concentrate on New Hampshire, largely ignoring Iowa.

“If Paul wins in Iowa, that could conceivably set the table for a good showing for Huntsman” in New Hampshire, Zogby predicted. “If Romney’s hurt in Iowa and Paul wins, that becomes a better scenario for Huntsman, and hence a mess for the Republican Party going into South Carolina.”

University of Virginia politics professor Larry Sabato, however, believes a Paul victory in Iowa could actually help Romney’s campaign. (RELATED: Full coverage of the New Hampshire primary)

“Paul’s Iowa victory would help Mitt by suppressing the other candidates more likely to beat Romney later on,” Sabato told TheDC.

Voters looking to stymie Romney’s chances wouldn’t necessarily choose Paul in New Hampshire after an Iowa victory, Sabato explained, adding that “it would call for an extraordinary degree of strategic voting on the part of average citizens.”

Mark McKinnon, who worked for John McCain’s campaign in 2008, similarly dismissed any suggestion that current Huntsman voters would become Paul supporters following an Iowa victory.

“Huntsman voters and Paul voters have almost nothing in common.” McKinnon told TheDC. “I see very little crossover.”

Huntsman and Paul are generally considered the candidates with the most appeal for independent voters. Both support pulling American troops out of Afghanistan and advocate moderate positions on social issues.

But Zogby believes independent voters in New Hampshire, who can vote in the Republican primary, may help Huntsman more than Paul.

“These moderate-leaning or even Democratic-leaning independents don’t play to Paul’s advantage,” said Zogby, who noted that they could comprise up to 40 percent of New Hampshire primary voters.

An Insider Advantage poll this month found independent New Hampshire voters almost evenly split between Gingrich, Romney and Paul. A PPP poll released this week found that Romney, Paul and Huntsman have significant shares, while Huntsman also leads with Democrats and “very liberal” respondents.

In 2008, Paul received eight percent of the vote in the New Hampshire primary. He is currently hovering around 20 percent in New Hampshire polls, essentially tied with Newt Gingrich for second place, but behind Romney — who lost the state in 2008 after Sen. John McCain’s late surge.

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