(CONCORD, N.H.) -- The first polls are now open in New Hampshire, one week after Mitt Romney’s eight-vote win in the Iowa caucuses.
With its early vote, the Granite State has a chance to adjust expectations and momentum in the Republican presidential race, before the candidates move onto South Carolina and Florida. And it has a decent track record -- slightly better than Iowa’s -- of predicting eventual GOP nominees. In years without an incumbent since 1980, New Hampshire has gone three for five (60 percent) in picking the eventual Republican nominee.
Heading into primary day, Mitt Romney figures to run away with the primary vote, but the contest for second place is in full swing. Romney (41 percent) holds a big lead in the latest major poll, conducted on Jan. 5 – 8 by WMUR/UNH, trailed by Ron Paul (17 percent), Jon Huntsman (11 percent), Rick Santorum (11 percent) and Newt Gingrich (8 percent).
Romney’s big lead is nothing new. The former governor has led by double digits in all but one major New Hampshire poll since April.
Huntsman, meanwhile, skipped Iowa and has dedicated the early part of his campaign to New Hampshire. If Huntsman shows well on Tuesday, New Hampshire could do for him what Iowa did for Santorum, supplying a new wave of media attention, money and raised standing. If not, his campaign will likely struggle to gain traction going forward.
New Hampshire is drawing a lot of attention from candidates in 2012, but not as much as it did in 2008. Like in Iowa, where spending on TV ads fell 85 percent from 2008, spending by candidates and independent groups is also way down in New Hampshire this year, according to a source who tracks ad buys in the state.
New Hampshire’s primary works quite differently from Iowa’s caucuses, where Republicans last week gathered in auditoriums and handed in paper ballots -- in some cases, blank pieces of paper -- with proceedings opened and closed by the gavels of precinct-caucus chairs. The New Hampshire primary is administered by New Hampshire’s Secretary of State, just like a regular election. The first polls open at 6 a.m. ET, and the last polls will close at 8 p.m. ET.
Independents can vote in Tuesday’s primary by re-registering as Republicans at polling places. Democrats, on the other hand, can’t re-register as Republicans on primary day. If independents turn out in force, they could prove beneficial to Paul, in particular, whose support typically falls outside mainstream Republican bounds.
New Hampshire has far more independents than Republicans: Of its 767,383 voters, 312,621 -- 41 percent -- are registered as “undeclared,” while 231,611, or 30 percent, are registered as Republicans.
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