It’s Newt Hampshire!

I teased this story in today’s first post, but it’s worth a closer look:  a Magellan Strategies automated poll released today shows Newt Gingrich in a statistical dead heat with Mitt Romney in New Hampshire. Romney garnered 29% in the poll, Gingrich 27%, followed by Paul at 16% and Cain at 10%. (The interviews were conducted November15-16, and the poll has a 3.6% margin of error). A month ago Magellan had Romney polling at 41% while Gingrich was mired in single digits.

It’s hard to overstate the significance if this poll holds up.  Romney has counted on New Hampshire as his firewall against whoever came out of Iowa’s January 3 caucus with the media momentum, much as Clinton used New Hampshire in 2008 to blunt Obama’s rise.  Should Gingrich win both Iowa and New Hampshire, however, that would essentially force Romney to do well in the southern states where Gingrich would be expected to run strong.

What’s fascinating about this poll is that the respondents included 40% independents. Remember, New Hampshire’s first in the nation primary is open to independents, and with no real Democratic race, they are likely to vote in big numbers in the Republican primary.  Although Romney’s strength is supposed to be his appeal to independents, Gingrich attracted enough polling support to essentially pull into a tie in Romney’s vacation homeland. (Note: since I could only view topline results, and not the crosstabs, I don’t know how much of Newt’s support came from independents and how much from conservatives).  This can’t be good news for Romney who, despite the efforts of the party establishment to declare him the front runner, simply cannot close the deal with conservatives.

Perhaps the most shocking part of the New Hampshire poll is that Newt’s favorable/unfavorable ratings have climbed to 59%/31% – almost identical to Mitt’s!  Except for Ron Paul (at 49/32% with 19% undecided) all the other Republican candidates have higher unfavorable than favorable ratings.  So much for Newt as polarizing figure, at least among likely Republican voters.

When asked why Newt was rising in the polls, 44% cited his depth and knowledge of the issues, with another 10% mentioning his former role as Speaker and 10% referencing his debate performance.

Now for the obligatory caveats.  One poll does not an election make, and as I’ve noted in previous posts, Newt has to show he can transfer polling support into votes – something that is hard to do if you don’t even have staff in the state. In short, this New Hampshire race, as is the nomination, is still wide open. Nonetheless, the Magellan poll is just one more bit of evidence that Newt is on a very big roll, and it makes next Tuesday’s debate suddenly vastly more interesting for all parties. A week ago, there wasn’t even a race in New Hampshire.  Now, we can’t take Mitt winning for Granite.

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