Up until now, presidential polls have been almost solely a function of name recognition. But after several weeks of active campaigning by the contenders as well as a couple of debates, there’s no denying the race is starting to take shape. So while the latest WMUR Granite State Poll should not be considered definitive, it does tell us something about how the candidates are doing, at least in the first-in-the-nation primary in New Hampshire.
The first point to be made is there’s no denying Mitt Romney is way ahead in New Hampshire. With 35 percent of likely Republican voters saying they would vote for him there, Romney ought to be feeling confident about his chances. Having served as governor of neighboring Massachusetts, Romney started with a leg up in New Hampshire, and his huge edge in fundraising accentuates that advantage.
But the best thing Romney has going for him is the dismal state of the economy. That’s a problem for President Obama, but it works to Romney’s advantage because the unemployment figures have served to overshadow health care as the major issue in 2012. So long as Republicans, as well as everyone else, are echoing Romney’s charge Obama has made the economy worse, that means they’re not talking about an issue on which Romney is vulnerable. Of course, Romney’s challengers won’t miss opportunities to talk about “Obamneycare” in future debates as Tim Pawlenty did in New Hampshire last month. But so long as Obamacare is not the top issue, Romney is in good shape.
There are two other interesting lessons from the WMUR poll. One shows Michele Bachmann vaulting over the other candidates to place a distant second with 12 percent. While that is not an impressive figure in and of itself, just a few weeks ago few thought Bachmann could even be a factor in New Hampshire. But if she can win in Iowa and then finish a strong second in Romney’s backyard in New Hampshire, that could set up a one-on-one duel to the finish between the two the rest of the way.
The final point to be gleaned from this poll is the dismal showing of both Tim Pawlenty and Jon Huntsman. Pawlenty’s three percent is pathetic,but he can console himself that his main chance is in Iowa. If he can prevail there, his prospects will improve everywhere else. On the other hand, Huntsman’s meager two percent of the likely vote shows just how much of a dud his campaign launch has been among his fellow Republicans. Huntsman’s plan is to start with a strong showing in New Hampshire, but right now that scenario seems as unlikely as everything else about his candidacy.
There’s a long way to go in New Hampshire as well as the entire GOP race, but there’s no denying the rest of the field has a lot of ground to make up to catch Romney and Bachmann.