Mitt Romney holds a commanding lead in the run-up to the Jan. 10 New Hampshire primary, according to a new poll released Thursday afternoon by Public Policy Polling.

Romney leads his closest Republican rival in the state, Ron Paul, by 15 percentage points. Newt Gingrich is a distant third. Gingrich’s support in the state has dropped 4 percentage points, from 17 percent to 13 percent, since the last PPP survey in mid-December. The drop, though modest in scale, underscores the perception that Gingrich is losing momentum nationally, and in the first-to-vote states of Iowa and New Hampshire.

The poll, conducted among likely Republican primary voters, indicates that Romney is drawing 36 percent support, compared to 21 percent for Paul. 

Jon Huntsman, who has bet his candidacy on a strong performance in the Granite State, has 12 percent support according to the poll, placing him fourth. This showing does not suggest Huntsman is strong enough to make a serious impact in New Hampshire, especially because it shows no improvement in his position from the same organization’s earlier poll in the state.

Among the other contenders, Michele Bachmann has 7 percent support, while Rick Perry, Rick Santorum and Buddy Roemer are tied at 3 percent each. 

The weak standings of Bachmann, Perry and Santorum underscore New Hampshire’s reputation as a less-favorable state for religious conservatives than Iowa.

“There’s little to suggest anyone could come from behind to defeat Romney in New Hampshire,” PPP’s Tom Jensen said. “Romney’s even winning the Tea Party vote 26 [percent to] 20 [percent] over Gingrich, a feat he’s not managing in too many states.”

Still, New Hampshire has a long record of confounding expectations, on both sides of the partisan divide. 

Underdog victories among Republicans came most recently in 2000, when John McCain defeated George W. Bush, and in 1996, when Pat Buchanan sprang a surprise on eventual nominee Bob Dole. 

Among Democrats, the current president was seen as a near-certainty to win in 2008, only to suffer a startling upset at the hands of Hillary Clinton.