Romney dominant in New Hampshire poll

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney leads the Republican presidential field in the home of the nation’s first primary, according to a new poll.

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Romney is the preferred choice of just over 50 percent of New Hampshire voters, according to the poll. Romney easily led former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who clocked in at 17 percent.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich pulled 13 percent of the vote, and Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who has set himself up as Romney's main opponent so far, won just 3 percent.

Romney's early lead comes a year and a half after the one-time governor of the neighboring Bay State finished second in the New Hampshire GOP presidential primary, taking 32 percent of the vote to Sen. John McCain's (Ariz.) 37 percent.

The survey, conducted Aug. 10-11 among 403 Republicans who said they were likely to vote in the 2012 primary, was taken for Now Hampshire, a conservative Granite State news site, by Virginia-based Populus Research.

Romney has positioned himself for a 2012 White House run, though he and his advisers insist he has no plans for another presidential campaign.

Romney will publish No Apology: The Case for American Greatness in March, which is intended to contrast his views with President Barack Obama, whom Romney criticized for apologizing to foreign countries for America's actions.

Romney’s political action committee also pulled in $1.6 million in the first six months of the year, enough to begin handing out money to local officials who would play a role in Romney's race if he decides to run.

He’s also made a point of hammering the president's national security stances, along with the economic stimulus package that he told The Hill in an April interview should have been targeted more at tax breaks than new spending.

Instead of the outsider role he played in the 2008 GOP primary, Romney is set in 2012 to serve as a possible establishment candidate. He led the pack in a Gallup Poll released in mid-July that showed him winning 26 percent of the vote compared with 21 percent for Palin, 19 percent for Huckabee and 14 percent for Gingrich. Just 3 percent wanted to see Pawlenty get the nomination, and 2 percent chose Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour.

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Pawlenty has already taken shots at Romney on healthcare. In a July 27 letter to members of the Minnesota congressional delegation, Pawlenty urged them to avoid a plan like the one Romney helped pass in Massachusetts, saying it cost too much to maintain. Pawlenty later contrasted the success his healthcare plan has had in Minnesota while again blasting Massachusetts in an op-ed in The Washington Post on Aug. 3.

In a July interview with The Hill, Pawlenty denied taking shots at Romney, but maintained the Minnesota plan was better at containing costs than Romney's Commonwealth Care.

“It didn't contain costs, and I don't think that’s really debatable; it's pretty obvious that happened,” Pawlenty said of the Massachusetts plan. But, he said of his criticisms: “It wasn't meant to be a shot at Gov. Romney. It's just that as the country looks for options, particularly as it relates to containing costs, that's not one we should follow.”

Other possible challengers to Romney have faced problems. South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford was considered a leading contender until he admitted an affair with a woman in Argentina. A week earlier, Sen. John Ensign (Nev.), another possible contender, admitted his own affair with a campaign staffer and family friend.

Pawlenty stepped up his criticism of Obama after Sanford and Ensign collapsed.

Palin continues to win the lion's share of the media attention, but she has not been able to translate that coverage into support. In a Fox News poll taken in late July, 32 percent of respondents — including 18 percent of Republicans — said the best job for Palin would be as a homemaker, while a combined 20 percent said either president or vice president.

Palin has also been criticized for her abrupt decision to resign from office with a year and a half left on her term.

Gingrich has kept up his high-profile attacks on Obama and has emerged as a leading voice against Democratic plans for healthcare reform. Meanwhile, Huckabee has used his talk show on Fox News to keep up his own attacks.

This story was updated at 10:15 a.m.