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Mitt Romney leads strongly in New Hampshire poll

By Maeve Reston, Tribune Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON —Mitt Romney is holding on to his double digit lead in the early primary state of New Hampshire, according to poll results released Sunday..

The Boston Globe poll shows the former Massachusetts governor leading the Republican field with 39 percent of voters likely to cast ballots in the Jan. 10 Republican primary. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who has led in some national polls, was tied with Rep. Ron Paul of Texas in second place, with 17 percent.

Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, who has spent virtually all of his time campaigning in New Hampshire, won the support of 11 percent of likely GOP voters. All of the other candidates ranked in the low single digits. (The University of New Hampshire Survey Center conducted the poll of 543 likely 2012 Republican primary voters. The margin of error within that group was plus or minus 4.2 percent).

Romney’s chance for the Republican nomination relies on a sizable win in New Hampshire, where he owns a summer home. Though Iowans will be the first to cast ballots on Jan. 3, Romney spent three days touring New Hampshire last week in his campaign bus – hitting as many as six stops in one day.

After returning to the Granite state Tuesday for a morning visit, Romney will set out on a bus tour of Iowa. Though he notched the endorsement of the influential Des Moines Register, his prospects are far more uncertain in the Hawkeye state where evangelical voters – some of whom are suspicious of his Mormon faith and his shifts on issues like abortion – dominate the caucuses. Gingrich, who is also launching an Iowa bus tour next week, has led Romney in Iowa by more than 10 percentage points in several recent polls.

In the Boston Globe poll, Romney held a wide lead over his rivals among New Hampshire voters who support or are active in the tea party. He faced greater competition for the state’s undeclared voters, voters who are unaligned with either party and may choose to cast their ballot in the Republican or Democratic primary. Romney won the support of 32 percent of those independent voters, Paul was backed by 25 percent of them and Huntsman 16 percent.

Most likely GOP voters in New Hampshire said Romney had the strongest family values; Paul led the field when voters were asked who was the most “consistent conservative.”

Though the primary is two weeks away, only 26 percent of likely GOP voters said they had settled on a candidate. Paul’s supporters were most certain of their choice in the poll, which was conducted between Dec. 12 and Dec. 19. But across the state, more than two-thirds of voters said they expected Romney to win the New Hampshire primary.

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