If you stayed up late awaiting the results of the Iowa caucus last week, there's a good chance you'll get to bed earlier this Tuesday when New Hampshire voters head to the polls for their presidential primary.
While former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney slid out of the Hawkeye State with a razor-thin eight-vote victory over suddenly surging contender former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, polls indicate that the leading GOP candidate will face much-weaker competition in his own backyard.
Romney is polling at 40 percent in the state, which means that the real scramble this time will be for second place. Though Romney managed to emerge from Iowa with a win (barely), despite not spending much time there in the run-up to Tuesday's first-in-the-nation contest, it was the roster of those below him that helped shake up the contest.
Left for dead months ago after failing to climb out of the single digits, traditional family-values conservative Santorum nearly managed a huge upset but is unlikely to pull another January surprise in New Hampshire, where the large population of independent voters — who make up 40 percent of the electorate — can cast ballots in Republican primaries. His anti-abortion and anti-gay marriage fire-and-brimstone message may not resonate with Granite State voters the way Libertarian Ron Paul's small-government outlook could. In fact, according to CNN, not only is New Hampshire the least-religious state in the nation, but a 2008 poll found that 55 percent of Republican primary voters believed that abortion should be always or mostly legal. Also, New Hampshire is one of the few states in the country where gay marriage is legal.
Paul, whose pull with young voters helped propel him to a strong third-place finish in Iowa, could cement his status as a serious contender with a second-place finish. At press time, he was polling around 17 percent, edging out Santorum at 11 percent.
With a win clearly off the table, even a runner-up finish was looking less likely, though, for former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman. The most-liberal conservative in the remaining field made a calculated risk by avoiding Iowa and betting the farm on New Hampshire, where he's spent much of the past six months. But after crowing that he was certain he'd win the state in recent weeks, Huntsman began lowering expectations in the days leading up to the vote, when his poll numbers failed to rise above 7 percent.
Like Santorum and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Huntsman already began setting his sights on the next contest in South Carolina (January 21), while Romney is hoping to solidify his hold on the leader spot and fend off the rest of the pack as the primaries head to Southern states, where Evangelical voters could play a bigger role in boosting Santorum.
While the GOP contenders continue to rip each other apart in the scramble to come out on top after primary season, they also have been hitting President Obama very hard on his policies in their stump speeches. Though Obama does not face a primary battle on Tuesday night, he is running a robust campaign in New Hampshire, where his team is trying to get as many supporters out to the polls to vote as possible in order to shore up the commander in chief's sagging support in the state.
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