The PJ Tatler

A Battle for Second in New Hampshire

Polls for the last several days have shown that Mitt Romney’s support in New Hampshire is pretty solid. The latest PPP poll has Romney doubling up second place holder Ron Paul 35-18 with Jon Huntsman moving strongly into third place with 16%.

The battle for second would appear to be between Huntsman and Paul, with Newt Gingrich having an outside chance for the number two slot:

The excitement in New Hampshire on Tuesday night will probably be the battle for second place. There Huntsman has the momentum. His support is up from 12% to 16%, while Paul’s has declined from 21% to 18% over the last week and a half. Huntsman’s favorability (55/30) is far better than Paul’s (43/51) and 13% of voters list Huntsman as their 2nd choice compared to only 5% for Paul.

All of these same arguments for Huntsman potentially overtaking Paul could have been applied to Santorum overtaking Paul on our Iowa poll last weekend and of course that’s what did happen when it was finally time to count the votes.

Even if Huntsman does pull the second place finish though it’s hard to see that translating into much success further down the line. Among actual Republican voters Huntsman finds himself in 5th place at just 11%. But 40% or more of the electorate on Tuesday will be non-Republican and Huntsman’s greatest strength is with Obama voters, among whom he gets 35% to 25% for Paul and 19% for Romney. The problem for him is there won’t likely be another primary where 25% of the voters chose Obama in 2008.

Beyond the battle for second it looks like the only other intrigue on Tuesday night will be who finishes fourth, which is presently close between Gingrich and Santorum. Gingrich has stopped the bleeding in New Hampshire over the last week and a half, dropping only from 13% to 12%. Santorum though is actually the biggest gainer relative to a week ago, up 8 points from his previous 3% standing.

The drama surrounding who finishes second is real. Ron Paul will go on from New Hampshire no matter where he finishes, but Jon Huntsman may have to seriously reconsider his candidacy if he can do no better than a distant third after spending more than 120 days straight working the state.

Gingrich and Perry are both expected to move on to South Carolina which is expected to be the Texas governor’s Waterloo. Newt will almost certainly head for Florida after South Carolina no matter where he finishes, giving himself a possible last shot to derail Romney’s candidacy.