Poll Shows Romney With Wide Lead in New Hampshire

By Jon Cohen and Dan Balz
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney holds a wide lead over his Republican rivals in New Hampshire, where he is seen as the strongest leader and most electable presidential candidate in the field, but the GOP race there remains unsettled a month before the nation's first primary, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Romney has the edge on most issues and candidate qualities tested in the new poll, and his strength in New Hampshire contrasts with his far shakier position in Iowa. He led throughout the summer and fall in Iowa, but recent polls show him locked in a competitive race with former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee.

Although Huckabee has surged in Iowa, whose caucuses mark the official start of the presidential nominating campaign on Jan. 3, that success has not yet translated to New Hampshire, which has a more socially liberal GOP electorate. New Hampshire voters will cast ballots five days after Iowa.

Romney enters the final month of campaigning with a sizable lead drawing support from 37 percent of likely primary voters, nearly double that of his closest competitor, Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), who registers at 20 percent. Former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani is third at 16 percent.

Nevertheless, New Hampshire remains an open contest. In 2000, half of GOP voters said they made their final decision in the last week of the campaign. Now, nearly two-thirds of Romney's supporters said there is a chance they could change their mind and vote for someone else.

Huckabee's rise in Iowa has made him the target of his Republican rivals, but he is stuck in the single digits in New Hampshire, with 9 percent. Rep. Ron Paul (Tex.), who has predicted he will raise more than $12 million this quarter, is at 8 percent. Fred D. Thompson, the former senator from Tennessee who entered the GOP race to considerable fanfare in September, gets the support of 4 percent of likely voters.

Romney's strategy for securing the nomination has long been predicated on winning both Iowa and New Hampshire. But as his lead in Iowa has disappeared, New Hampshire may become even more critical to his calculus.

As a former governor from neighboring Massachusetts, Romney has been a frequent presence in the state, holding nearly 100 events there so far this year, according to the washingtonpost.com Campaign Tracker. Voters have noticed: Half of those surveyed said Romney has "campaigned the hardest" of any candidate in the state.

Romney also has double-digit advantages as the Republicans' most electable candidate, the strongest leader, the truest representative of GOP core values and the one who would do the most to bring change to Washington. He and McCain rank about even as the candidate with the best experience to be president, and as the field's most honest and trustworthy candidate.

Romney also scores high on the issues. On six out of eight issues, he holds significant leads. By a 25-percentage-point margin, Romney is viewed as tops on the economy, and he has large advantages over his closest rival on health care (24 points), taxes (20 points), social issues such as abortion and same-sex civil unions (18 points), the budget (20 points), and immigration issues (15 points).

Romney has his weaknesses, however, on other top issues. Giuliani and McCain (31 percent each) outpace Romney (17 percent) as the candidate most trusted on terrorism. McCain has an edge on Iraq, with 36 percent calling him best on this issue, compared with 20 percent each for Giuliani and Romney.

As in Iowa, several issues are motivating GOP voters in New Hampshire. When voters are asked to list their top two concerns, six issues are cited by 10 percent or more. Topping the list are Iraq and immigration, each cited by about three in 10 voters.

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