Romney holds big lead in New Hampshire

Will Rahn Senior Editor
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Regardless of which candidate wins Tuesday’s Iowa caucuses, Mitt Romney has a seemingly insurmountable lead in New Hampshire while his rivals for the Republican presidential nomination struggle to find their footing.

According to a new Suffolk University poll, Romney, the former governor of neighboring Massachusetts, is running away from the pack in New Hampshire with 41 percent support among likely primary voters. He is followed by Texas Rep. Ron Paul with 15 percent, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich with 11 percent, and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman with 9 percent support.

A separate New Hampshire Journal poll finds much of the same, with Romney at 41 percent, Paul at 21 percent, and Huntsman and Gingrich tied at 14 percent support. The poll also finds that a whopping 69 percent of Granite State primary voters view Romney favorably, against only 27 percent who view him unfavorably. Romney’s closest rival in the primary, Paul, is viewed favorably by only 47 percent of New Hampshire voters, and unfavorably by 42 percent.

“Given [Romney’s] now-20 point lead, if another candidate can get something going and come in only 10 points behind, then that person should have some steam headed out of New Hampshire to South Carolina,” New Hampshire GOP consultant Mike Dennehy, the man behind Sen. John McCain’s primary victories in 2000 and 2008, told The Washington Post.

“Second place ends up being the gold for the New Hampshire primary this year,” he continued.

With New Hampshire all but a sure-fire win for Romney, some of his opponents are already looking to South Carolina. Texas Gov. Rick Perry is expected to avoid campaigning in New Hampshire entirely after the Iowa caucuses, and will head straight to the Palmetto State. And despite his big endorsement from the New Hampshire Union Leader, Gingrich has said South Carolina is the state he must win to secure the nomination.

Rep. Michele Bachmann, who is placing last in the latest Iowa polls, said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” that her campaign “already bought our plane tickets. We’re headed to South Carolina as soon as we’re done on Wednesday morning.” (RELATED: Bachmann: No matter what happens in Iowa, we’re not dropping out)

According to TIME’s Joe Klein, South Carolina is shaping up to be the “anti-Romney Super Bowl” as Perry, Gingrich and former Sen. Rick Santorum look to stay in the race.

“All three will have advantages,” Klein writes. “Santorum will have momentum, perhaps, if he does as well as he’s supposed to do in Iowa; Perry will have money and a region-appropriate accent; Gingrich will have something akin to home field advantage, coming from neighboring Georgia.”

South Carolina is traditionally the most important state on the Republican primary calendar: Since 1980, the winner has always gone on to secure the nomination. The most recent polls show Gingrich maintaining a double-digit lead in the state, but they were conducted before his spectacular drop in the polls in the last half of December.

But while the Romney camp must be feeling good as they head into Iowa and New Hampshire, even some of his supporters are saying the race for the nomination isn’t over until it’s over.

“Concerns about Republican candidates being ‘stuck’ with low poll numbers reflect pundits’ laziness at best and their biases at worst,” writes former New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu, a Romney backer, in Monday’s Boston Globe. “Rest assured, pundits, someone will break out of the pack; and when it happens, it will happen fast.”

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