Poll: Romney leads GOP field in New Hampshire

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R-Mass.) leads big in an early test of the 2012 New Hampshire primary.

Forty percent of the state's Republican voters would choose Romney in a hypothetical field of 2012 contenders, according to a WMUR Granite State Poll released Monday.

Ten percent of the state's GOP voters would vote for former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, 7 percent would prefer former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R), and 7 percent would cast their ballot for former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R).

New Hampshire boasts the first formal primary, following Iowa's caucuses, which are treated as the first nominating contest. Those two states, along with South Carolina's primary, are seen as pivotal to a candidate's ability to build momentum toward winning his or her party's nomination.

The showing is particularly encouraging for Romney, the former governor of neighboring Massachusetts. He finished second to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in the 2008 primary, with 31 percent of the vote, and has worked to build a base of political support in the state through campaign stops and a state-level political action committee.

Other high-profile candidates fare less well, though the contest is still almost a year away. Six percent of Republican voters favor former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), and 6 percent would elect former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R). Five percent would vote for Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), 3 percent for real estate mogul Donald Trump, 1 percent for former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) and 1 percent for Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R).

The poll, conduced Jan. 28 through Feb. 7, has a 5.2 percent margin of error.