Poll: Romney starts with big lead in New Hampshire

A new poll shows former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is the early Republican frontrunner in New Hampshire, where he holds a commanding 23-point edge over his closest potential rival — former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.   

The New Hampshire Journal poll, conducted by the Republican firm Magellan Strategies, found Romney comfortably at the head of the pack of rumored 2012 hopefuls with 39 percent of the vote. 

He's followed by Palin at 16 percent, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee at 10 percent, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich at 8 percent and Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) at 7 percent. 

Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty registers a disappointing 4 percent in the survey. That's barely ahead of former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), who comes in at 3 percent and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, who polls just 1 percent.

To state the obvious — it's very early — but Romney's lead is still notable. So are Palin's favorability numbers, particularly among independent voters. The NH Journal poll measured a net positive favorability for Palin with self-identified independents — 50 percent to 41 percent. 

And while it didn't translate to a better showing against Romney, the poll also found her very popular with the GOP base in the state, which unlike in Iowa tends to be a bit more centrist. Fifty-nine percent of Republicans polled said they have a favorable view of Palin.   

Santorum, who moved closer to a 2012 run earlier this week when he announced his first staff hire in New Hampshire, is heading back to the state for another visit later this month and Pawlenty has a two-day visit to the state on his January schedule as part of his book tour.

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani is also heading to New Hampshire next month, but denied a report in The New York Post that he's huddling with political advisers and weighing another run for president in 2012.