After a photo finish in the nation's first Republican presidential nominating contest, the remaining Republican contenders -- those who survived the Iowa caucuses -- will face off Tuesday in the New Hampshire primary, the first contest with binding votes.
The Granite state will likely be a boon for former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who holds a commanding, double-digit lead in polls there. Romney managed to, beating former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum by a mere eight votes. Winning back-to-back nominating contests in Iowa and New Hampshire could go a long way in securing the notion that Romney is the inevitable nominee. Since the modern nomination process was established in 1976, no non-incumbent Republican has ever won both states.
However, expectations are high for Romney. In the latest Suffolk University two-day trafficking poll out of New Hampshire, Romney led with 43 percent. But if his competitors siphon off a significant level of support from him there, it could further erode Republican confidence in the former governor. Santorum, Texas Rep. Ron Paul, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich or former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman may not be able to overcome Romney's lead, but they're not ceding the state to him -- and there's room for each candidate to make headway.
Santorum's impressive second-place finish in Iowa, pulled off on a shoe-string budget, validated his strategy of using old-school, retail politics to appeal to voters. While Santorum spent significant time in Iowa, he's also logged an impressive number of stops in New Hampshire. Santorum has logged about as many Granite state visits as Romney, and those candidates have only been outpaced by Hunstman, who decided to forgo campaigning in Iowa.
Santorum's brand of social conservatism is a better fit in Iowa than New Hampshire, and it's shown in the polls -- he's has lingered in the single digits there, trailing behind Romney, Paul, Gingrich and Huntsman. But while the Granite state is known for its libertarian streak (its motto is "live free or die"), there's room for social conservatives like Santorum. The GOP-led state legislature made a new abortion restriction for minor girls one of its signature pieces of legislation in 2011. Additionally, they're planning on taking up socially conservative issues this year like the teaching of evolution and repealing the state's same-sex marriage law. According to the 2008 American Religious Identification Survey, 32 percent of New Hampshire residents are Catholic, like Santorum.
Still, Santorum clearly aims to be expand his message beyond values issues. In a speech Tuesday night, the former senator struck a note of economic populism, vowing to enact "a plan that includes people from all across the economic spectrum, a plan that says we will work together to get America to work."
While Santorum hopes to give Romney a run for his money in New Hamsphire, Paul is the one better placed to do it. The Texas lawmaker's libertarian views are popular in the state, where the latest Suffolk University two-day tracking poll puts him in second place at 14 percent. Aware of his natural appeal there, Paul launched his presidential campaign in Exeter, New Hampshire in May. Currently, Paul is polling about twice as well in New Hampshire as he was four years ago in the GOP primary, Dante Scala, associate professor of political science at the University of New Hampshire,.
Paul's libertarian views -- which stray far from mainstream Republicanism on a host of issues, most notably foreign policy -- could be a key advantage in New Hamsphire, where independents can participate in the primary and outnumber both Democrats and Republicans.
In remarks late Tuesday night, Paul said his third-place finish in Iowa gave himheading into New Hampshire. He argued that he won "one of three tickets out" of Iowa -- "and one of two that can actually run a national campaign and raise the money."
Paul has been unafraid to criticize his Republican rivals. On NBC's "Today" show Wednesday, he took aim at Gingrich, calling him a "chickenhawk" for avoiding the Vietnam war.
For his part, Gingrich appears to beas he heads into New Hampshire. Speaking to reporters in the Granite state today, Gingrich , saying, "The fact is, three out of four Republicans rejected him."
He hit the ground running in New Hampshire today, where he may be low in the polls (at 9 percent, according to the latest Suffolk two-day tracking poll) but makes up for it with a strong organization. His campaign claims to have thousands of volunteers on the ground in the Granite state and 15 paid staffers -- not to mention some prime endorsements, including from New Hampshire Speaker of the House Bill O'Brien and the New Hampshire Union Leader, a conservative newspaper.
Huntsman, meanwhile, has bet his entire campaign on performing well in New Hamsphire, making well over 100 campaign stops there and praising it as the state where voters "."
Huntsman has a large statewide leadership team numbering over 150 in over 100 towns, and his groundwork has paid off marginally. He's gone from being a blip in the polls to placing in third or fourth -- he stands at 7 percent in the latest Suffolk poll.
While all of these candidates have strengths they can play to in New Hampshire, it's unlikely they'll catch up to Romney before Tuesday. That said, the Romney campaign has to keep up its own momentum after its tight finish in Iowa. He has paid close attention the Granite state, where he has a vacation home, even popping in for a visit just days before the Iowa caucuses.
At an event in Manchester Wednesday, Romney boasted a new endorsement from former Republican nominee Sen. John McCain, who won the 2008 New Hampshire primary. Still, the crowd at Romney's Manchester event was tepid, CBS News/ National Journal reporter Sarah Boxer reports. The crowd peppered Romney with some confrontational questions, including one from an audience member who said Romney would raise health care costs.