Poll: Romney support steadies, Huntsman fights for second in NH

GOP front-runner Mitt Romney is holding a strong lead one day before the New Hampshire primary, but challenger Jon Huntsman, who has staked most of his resources on the Granite State, has moved up to challenge Ron Paul for second place, finds a new poll.

The final survey from Public Policy Polling before Tuesday’s first-in-the-nation primary shows Romney with 35 percent support from likely GOP voters, with Texas Rep. Ron Paul in second place with 18 percent and Huntsman close behind with 16.

Newt Gingrich is at 12 percent and Rick Santorum, whose second-place finish in the Iowa caucuses led to a short-lived surge in New Hampshire, earns the backing of 11 percent in PPP’s poll.

{mosads}The survey finds that Romney has the most committed supporters, with 85 percent of Romney backers saying they will definitely vote for him. The former Massachusetts governor has a 60-to-34 percent favorable-to-unfavorable rating. The poll suggests Romney has stemmed the slow erosion in support that he saw in other polls released this weekend. In PPP’s two December 2011 polls, Romney earned support from 35 and 36 percent of voters, respectively.

Romney, who owns a vacation home in the state and served as governor of neighboring Massachusetts, has long held a large lead over the rest of the GOP field in New Hampshire, but over the weekend signs emerged that his campaign was losing ground.

Romney faced strong attacks from the rest of the field in a Sunday morning debate, with Newt Gingrich accusing him of spouting “pious baloney” and Jon Huntsman suggesting he placed partisanship over patriotism. A Suffolk University tracking poll released Sunday also showed him trending downward for the fourth straight day, sliding to 35 percent, down from 39 in a Saturday poll.

Suffolk’s survey showed Ron Paul in second place at 20 percent and Huntsman gaining ground with 11 percent, up from 9 the day before.

With Romney seemingly halting that negative slide, attention has shifted to the contest for second place, with signs that Huntsman could overtake Ron Paul. Huntsman’s support is up four points, from 12 percent in a PPP survey released in late December 2011. The former Utah governor also has a 55 percent to 30 percent favorable/unfavorable breakdown, topping Paul, who has a 51 percent rating.

Furthermore, 13 percent of voters listed Huntsman as their second choice, with only 5 percent picking Paul.

Huntsman, who did not campaign in Iowa, has risked most of his campaign’s resources on a strong finish in New Hampshire.

“It doesn’t look like there’s much potential for a late surprise in New Hampshire this time,” said Dean Debnam, PPP president.

“Mitt Romney’s support has been steady, and no one else is even close to him. The only suspense on Tuesday night will be for who finishes in second place and who finishes fourth,” said Debnam in a statement announcing the latest results.

PPP surveyed 1,711 likely GOP primary voters on Jan. 7 and 8. The poll has a 2.3 percent margin of error.

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