2012 contenders flood New Hampshire as Romney prepares bid

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) will formally announce his presidential campaign on Thursday in New Hampshire, just as a horde of other GOP candidates flood into the state.

Romney will make his second bid for the Republican nomination official at a noontime chili cook-off at Doug and Stella Scamman’s Bittersweet Farm, planting his flag firmly in the Granite State, where Romney’s staked a great deal of his political strategy.

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The announcement is anything but a surprise; Romney’s long been expected to enter the race for president, and he formally joins the field as a nominal front-runner with a small but consistent lead over other Republican candidates.

And the choice of New Hampshire, which hosts the nation’s first primary of the 2012 nominating cycle, is far from symbolic. Romney enjoys a stronger advantage over other Republican candidates in that state than anywhere else at this point in the race. While the former governor has sent signals that he might also play in Iowa and South Carolina — two other key states in the nominating process — New Hampshire is the centerpiece of his path to the nomination.

He owns a home there and came in second during the 2008 New Hampshire primary.

But other would-be Republican presidential candidates haven’t shown any signs of being scared off by Romney or his fundraising prowess. (He raised over $10 million in a single day last month.)

Rather, other Republicans are set to flood into New Hampshire over the weekend. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) will take her heavily covered bus tour to the state soon, though she downplayed the importance of the state’s primaries in interviews on Wednesday.

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R), who’s sent strong signals of late that he might throw his hat in the ring, will headline a New Hampshire GOP fundraiser on Thursday, and former Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman (R), who would also focus heavily on the state if he runs for president, will be there this weekend.

Two dark-horse candidates, Rep. Thaddeus McCotter (R-Mich.) and former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson (R), will also be in the state this weekend to participate in a Republican political cruise.