Rasmussen poll of New Hampshire: Romney 42%, Paul 18%, Santorum 13%, Huntsman 12%

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Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney is pulling away from the pack in New Hampshire as Tuesday’s first-in-the-nation primary nears. His nearest rival now trails him by more than 20 points.

The latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of Likely Republican Primary Voters in New Hampshire finds Romney earning 42% support. Texas Congressman Ron Paul is a distant second with 18% of the vote, followed by former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, hot off his photo finish with Romney in the Iowa caucuses, at 13%. Former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, who has focused his campaign efforts on New Hampshire, captures 12% support.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who less than a month ago had the backing of 22% of New Hampshire GOP primary voters, now gets just eight percent (8%) of the vote, with Texas Governor Rick Perry in dead last at one percent (1%). Another one percent (1%) like some other candidate in the race, and six percent (6%) remain undecided. (To see survey question wording,click here.)  

In Rasmussen Reports’ last survey of the New Hampshire contest in early December, Romney led with 33% of the vote, followed by Gingrich and Paul in third with 18% support. Santorum, who earned just three percent (3%) support at that time, has focused little on New Hampshire and instead is counting on the January 21 South Carolina primary to give his candidacy momentum for the long haul. He’s now running a close second to Romney in South Carolina.

Scott Rasmussen will host a political talk show Monday evening, “What New Hampshire Thinks with Scott Rasmussen,” in partnership with WBIN-TV, based in Derry, NH. The 9 pm Eastern program will include new Rasmussen Reports numbers on the New Hampshire primary race. Segments from the program will be released Tuesday on the Rasmussen Reports website.

Given his lead, Romney appears comfortably ahead since 61% of primary voters in the Granite State say they are already certain of their vote. But 33% say they still could change their minds. Those whose minds are made up include 71% of Romney voters and 70% of Paul supporters. Fifty-nine percent (59%) of Huntsman’s backers, 56% of Santorum supporters and 55% of Perry’s also say they are sure how they will vote on Tuesday. Just 49% of Gingrich’s voters say the same.

Romney is far and away the best-liked of the GOP presidential hopefuls as far as New Hampshire primary voters are concerned. Seventy-two percent (72%) have a favorable opinion of the former governor from neighboring Massachusetts. Fifty-three percent (53%) have favorable views of both Santorum and Huntsman. Most primary voters share a more unfavorable opinion than favorable one of the other candidates – Paul, Perry and Gingrich – in the race.

Nationally, the latest Rasmussen Reports survey of likely Republican voters finds Romney ahead with 29% of the vote, followed by Santorum at 21% and Gingrich with 16%.

Most primary voters (52%) in New Hampshire believe Romney would be the strongest candidate against President Obama. Far behind are 13% and 11% respectively who feel Paul and Gingrich would be the strongest GOP candidates. But Paul is the leader at 30% when these same voters are asked who would be the weakest Obama challenger.

Regardless of whom they hope wins the Republican nomination, 71% think Romney will be the eventual winner. All the other candidates have just single-digit support on this question.

If their favorite doesn’t win the nomination, 72% of New Hampshire GOP primary voters still plan to vote for the GOP candidate, but 14% will opt for Obama instead. Only five percent (5%) like the idea of a third-party candidate.

Romney barely edges Santorum 27% to 25% among voters in the state who say they are part of the Tea Party movement. But Romney carries a plurality (45%) of those voters who are not members of the grass roots movement, far outdistancing all his other opponents.

Romney also holds double-digit leads over his nearest competitor among Evangelical Christians, other Protestants, Catholics and GOP voters of other faiths.

Eighty-four percent (84%) of likely primary voters in New Hampshire think it is at least somewhat likely that the eventual Republican nominee will defeat Obama in November. This includes 47% who feel it is Very Likely. Nineteen percent (19%) of these voters now at least somewhat approve of the job the president is doing, while 80% disapprove.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.