Mitt Romney Looks to Stay on Top in New Hampshire

GOP rivals hope to knock down front-runner

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Newt Gingrich is jostling with Santorum near the back of the pack. The former House speaker has tried to win votes by displaying his knowledge of history and his comparing his conservative bona fides to Republican hero Ronald Reagan. But he's been unable to regain the traction his candidacy had just a few weeks ago before opponents attacked him as a lobbyist and Washington insider.

And as it was in Iowa, the candidate with the most boisterous and passionate following is Paul, but his support appears to have a ceiling at about 20 percent of the vote. His hope is surely that as many of New Hampshire's independent voters come out to vote as possible, as he leads all other candidates with that group. The state's semi-open primary allows for independents to vote Republican ballots, but not for registered Democrats to weigh in on the GOP side. Paul's libertarian stance brought new voters into the fold in Iowa and he'll need to achieve the same to make a run at Romney in New Hampshire.

Overall, the race in New Hampshire is still fluid. As has been the narrative throughout the GOP race, if voters were to break in favor of one of Romney's rivals, his level of support is low enough that he's vulnerable. But there's no evidence that such a break is coming—more likely, voters will continue to scatter their support among his rivals.

It's very likely that the race will still be a contest after New Hampshire, even if Romney accomplishes a back-to-back win. South Carolina, the next state to weigh in, offers social conservatives another chance to stall the slow march of Romney toward the nomination.

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  •  Email: rmetzler@usnews.com

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