Romney leads in NH poll; Bachmann creeping up

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney maintains his wide lead among GOP presidential candidates in New Hampshire, according to a poll released Tuesday evening.

But in what may be the real race in the state, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) has crept into a distant second.

In the poll, conducted by WMUR and the University of New Hampshire, Romney received support from 35 percent of likely New Hampshire Republican primary voters, down from 41 percent from last month's WMUR-Univ. of N.H. poll. Bachmann was backed by 12 percent of those polled, a 8-point jump since the last poll, before strong debate performance in the Granite State.

Romney is likely to win the first-in-the-nation primary. He owns a home there, has campaigned tirelessly in the state and has led every poll conducted there since 2009. He came in second during the 2008 primary, losing to the eventual GOP nominee, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). Bachmann's strongly religious views do not play as well with the more moderate and libertarian electorate in the state. But should she win Iowa, where she was born and has invested most of her time, a second-place finish in New Hampshire would be viewed as a strong performance and give her momentum going into South Carolina's primary.

Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani tied for third in the poll at 7 percent.  Paul is a libertarian favorite, while Giuliani's support of abortion rights (and long campaign there in 2008) may be bolstering his numbers. Those close to Giuliani say he expects to make a decision about a run later this summer.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry followed them with 4 percent in his first appearance in the poll. A spokesman for the governor said he'll decide on a presidential bid in the next several weeks.

Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, former Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman and former Speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.) did not fare as well.

Pawlenty took only 3 percent, Huntsman 3 percent, and Gingrich 1 percent. Pawlenty has spent much of the last year campaigning in New Hampshire and Iowa, another early-voting state, without making a dent in the polls. Much of Gingrich's team quit the campaign in June. 

Huntsman has only been in the race a few weeks but has made several trips to the state, which he is making a centerpiece of his campaign strategy.