by Michael Levenson
Boston Globe
December 25, 2011

Newt Gingrich’s surge has slowed and Ron Paul has gained momentum, but Mitt Romney remains the clear front-runner in New Hampshire with a little more than two weeks until the nation’s first primary, according to a new Boston Globe poll.

Romney has the support of 39 percent of the state’s likely Republican voters, a drop of 3 percentage points since last month but a strong indication he is weathering Gingrich’s national comeback in a state vital to his campaign.

In the closely watched contest for second place, Gingrich and Paul are tied with 17 percent each, just ahead of Jon Huntsman, who has the support of 11 percent of likely Republican voters.

But as the race hurtles toward the Jan. 10 primary, Paul has been gaining the most in New Hampshire. His support has risen by 5 percentage points since November, while Huntsman has picked up 3 percentage points in the last month and Gingrich has gained 2.

The momentum for Paul raises the prospect that he, not Gingrich, could emerge as the strongest early challenger to Romney if the Texas congressman can hold on to his lead in Iowa and capture second place in New Hampshire.

The remainder of the Republican field remains largely sidelined in New Hampshire. Rick Santorum is in fourth place, with support from 3 percent of the state’s likely Republican voters, followed by Michele Bachmann at 2 percent and Rick Perry at 1 percent.

Buddy Roemer, a former Louisiana governor, and Gary Johnson, a former New Mexico governor, who have campaigned in New Hampshire but been ignored nationally, each drew less than 1 percent in the poll.

The live telephone survey of 543 likely Republican voters was conducted by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center between Dec. 12 and Dec. 19, and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.2 percentage points.

The survey indicated that, even as Gingrich has rebounded nationally from his campaign’s implosion last summer, the contours of the race have remained largely unchanged over the last two years in New Hampshire, where polls have consistently shown Romney with a sizable lead.

Andrew E. Smith, director of the Survey Center, attributed Romney’s enduring strength in New Hampshire to an electorate that is largely composed of moderate Republicans and independents, not party activists, evangelicals, and core conservatives who wield more influence in Iowa, South Carolina, and Florida.

Romney, who owns a home in New Hampshire and has the backing of most of the party establishment, has campaigned frequently in the state, presenting himself as a sort of friendly neighbor from Massachusetts.

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