Republicans make final dash in New Hampshire

Republican presidential candidate, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman holds eight-week-old Grace Lesperance while campaigning at Mary's Bakery and Cafe in Henniker, N.H. Monday, Jan. 9, 2012.
AP Photo/Elise Amendola
Republican presidential candidate, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman holds eight-week-old Grace Lesperance while campaigning at Mary's Bakery and Cafe in Henniker, N.H. Monday, Jan. 9, 2012.
AP Photo/Elise Amendola

With just one day to go before New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation primary on Tuesday, the Republican presidential field is making a final sweep of the state in a last effort to woo voters.

Barring a dramatic change in the polls, tomorrow's contest is looking like a three-man race for second place: A new University of New Hampshire poll shows Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, with a hefty lead of 41 percent in the state, followed by Ron Paul with 17 percent, and Rick Santorum and Jon Huntsman tied with 11 percent each.

A Suffolk University daily tracking poll, meanwhile, shows Romney with a smaller margin and gives Huntsman a slight edge for third place: In that survey, Romney earned 33 percent, followed by Paul with 20 percent, Huntsman with 13 percent, Gingrich with 11 percent and Santorum with 10 percent. (Rick Perry, who is not actively competing in the state, earned one percent.)

Despite his expected victory tomorrow (the New York Times' Nate Silver gave him a 98 percent chance of winning), Romney on Monday continued his swing of the state, starting with a breakfast in Nashua and making a surprise stop at his campaign headquarters before continuing on to an event in Hudson.

Special report: Election 2012

Romney's morning was not without missteps, however: at the Chamber of Commerce breakfast, the candidate emphasized his belief in the free market system by noting the he likes to "fire people" for bad service - a gaffe for which his opponents immediately hammered him.

"Governor Romney enjoys firing people. I enjoy creating jobs," former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman told reporters in Concord later that morning.

Huntsman, who essentially skipped the Iowa caucuses, is counting on a strong finish in New Hampshire in order to stay in the race. He has staked considerable time and resources in the Granite State, and has acknowledged that unless he is able to "exceed market expectations" there on Tuesday, he will likely have to step aside.

On Monday, in the hopes of achieving that end, Huntsman's campaign announced a "country first" tour in South Carolina, as well as the release of a new television ad positing him as the anti-Romney Republican (a title for which nearly all Romney's GOP competitors are currently vying).

"The fundamental difference between Jon Huntsman and Mitt Romney is that Huntsman puts service to country first, while Romney puts his own personal ambition first," Huntsman spokesman Tim Miller told CBS News' Political Hotsheet in an email. "Americans are looking for a leader who will restore trust in Washington, not play the same political games."

While Huntsman attempts to paint himself as the high-road Republican alternative, Newt Gingrich, in contrast, conceded Monday that a positive campaign had failed him in recent weeks - particularly as a series of scathing ads attacking him bombarded the airwaves in Iowa, likely contributing to his decline in the polls and fourth-place caucus finish.

Speaking to a crowd of 50-75 people in Dover, the former House speaker suggested his campaign was no longer committed to disavowing negative campaign ads released on his behalf.

"You cannot compete with Romney if you are totally positive and he is running three, three and a half million in attack ads, it's not possible," Gingrich said. "You don't have to run attack ads, but you have to be prepared to be, to draw comparison."

When pressed about the change of tack, Gingrich suggested that going negative was unavoidable and that "the facts will speak for themselves."

"It turns out that there are some things that if you describe them they're negative," he said. "I mean if you accurately describe some things, they are negative - it's pretty hard to draw a distinction there in terms of accuracy. I would hope that it would focus on communicating the facts and I would encourage them to communicate the facts. The facts will speak for themselves, I think."

He noted that this strategy was not his "first preference on how to run the campaign" but that he doesn't believe in "unilateral disarmament."

Gingrich has in recent days been relentless in criticizing Romney, not only for his politics - on Sunday he blasted his rival for being a "relatively timid Massachusetts moderate" - but also for his history at Bain Capital, where Romney was formerly the CEO. Moreover, thanks to a new campaign infusion of $5 million, the pro-Gingrich super PAC "Winning Our Future" is preparing to flood the South Carolina airwaves with Romney attack ads.

"I have broad shoulders. I can stand the heat. Now we'll see if he has broad shoulders and he can stand the heat," Gingrich said Monday.

Rick Santorum, meanwhile returning from a quick stop in South Carolina following the Iowa caucuses, attempted to downplay expectations of his performance in the Granite State ahead of Tuesday's primary.

"I'd be ecstatic with second place," he told reporters. "Oh my goodness, yeah."

Santorum's staunchly conservative social views, though catapulting him to within eight votes of a victory in Iowa, have not so far had the same sway in New Hampshire, whose voters live by the motto "Live free or die."

"I hope that our grassroots effort and the team that we built here and the ideas that we've been talking about will resonate here and I think they have," he added.

And despite his strong placement in the state so far, Ron Paul's campaign has been wary about the frenzy surrounding his appearances. His campaign manager Jesse Benton on Monday afternoon released a statement apologizing to voters for what was described as a "morning media incident" that may have "distressed" some voters, and calling on the press to be "respectful" of both the candidate and New Hampshire residents.

"This morning, [Paul] attempted to hold an event at Moe Joe's Diner in Manchester, to speak with patrons and supporters in the last push before the New Hampshire primary," Benton said in the statement. "Unfortunately, Dr. Paul and his family were forced to leave early after over 120 members of the press created a mob-like atmosphere that was deemed to be unsafe for the candidate, Moe Joe's customers, and reporters themselves."

"We ask the press, at all upcoming events over the next day and a half, to be respectful of both Dr. Paul and of New Hampshire voters, who are entitled to examine their candidates in a safe and responsible atmosphere," he continued.

Though Tuesday's competition is perceived as a crucial contest for contenders like Jon Huntsman and Rick Santorum -- who, depending on the primary's outcome, will likely either continue to gain momentum or start to lose it -- one candidate has less to worry about.

Rick Perry, who briefly considered dropping out of the race after his disappointing fifth-place finish in Iowa, is taking his campaign straight to South Carolina where, like Santorum, he will attempt to pick up the southern evangelical vote.

In a Monday interview with Fox News, the candidate acknowledged his slim chances of winning South Carolina's January 21 primary in light of his performances in Iowa and (ostensibly) New Hampshire. Still, he appeared to keep the faith.

"There's always a first time," Perry said.