Mitt Romney speaks during a rally at Exeter High School in Exeter, N.H. (Justin Sullivan / Getty…)
Reporting from Manchester, N.H. —
Mitt Romney is holding on to what seems like an insurmountable lead in New Hampshire a new poll finds, meaning any drama surrounding Tuesday's voting in the first presidential primary is likely to be about who claims runner-up status.
In the final University of New Hampshire survey before the contest, Romney is the top choice of 41% of likely Republican primary voters, 24 points ahead of Texas Rep. Ron Paul.
Rick Santorum and Jon Huntsman are knotted at 11%, followed by Newt Gingrich at 8%. Rick Perry musters just 1% support.
Romney's lead here has eroded somewhat over the last week. It was at 46% for a two-day period before the Iowa caucuses, dropping to 43% in the two days after that contest. Paul also has dipped, from 23%, from the days before Iowa.
Santorum may have plateaued after an initial post-Iowa bounce, but Huntsman has jumped from 7% to 11%.
"All of the candidates behind Romney have a good chance finishing anywhere between second and fifth place," said UNH pollster Andrew Smith.
Eight percent of those surveyed are still undecided; only 44% say they are definite about their final choice, the poll found.
"New Hampshire voters historically have made up their minds in the final days before the election, and campaign activities in the final days matter, but this will be harder for Gingrich and Santorum as they are not running ads in the campaign’s final days," Smith said.
Romney has made electability a key part of his argument, but only 19% said that a candidate's ability to defeat President Obama is the most important characteristic for them, compared with 43% who say it is the candidate's position on the issues that matters.
In the New Hampshire primary, unlike Iowa's caucuses, Republicans and "undeclared" voters can vote in the Republican primary. Smith's sample assumes that registered Republicans will account for 57% of the total turnout.
Romney performs most strongly among that group, with 48% support compared with 14% for Paul and Santorum. Among undeclared voters, Romney's lead is 34%-21% over Paul, with Huntsman at 18%.
Romney holds on to 70% of the voters who supported him in the 2008 primary, the poll found. Among supporters of winning candidate John McCain, Romney gets 46%, compared with 14% for Paul and 10% for Gingrich.
Voters who in 2008 cast ballots in the Democratic primary for Obama but now will vote in the Republican race favor Romney slightly, 30% compared with 28% for Paul and 23% for Huntsman, the poll found.
Huntsman polled best among the undeclared voters who lean Democrat or are true independents.