The question isn’t whether Mitt Romney will win tomorrow’s primary race in New Hampshire – he almost certainly will – but whether his margin of victory will be wide enough to meet the enormous expectations. His 10-point drop in the Suffolk University tracking poll over the past week isn’t a good sign:
Romney dropped 2 more percentage points overnight but still holds a 13-point lead at 33 percent. The former Massachusetts governor has dropped a full 10 points from five days ago, when he had 43 percent of likely GOP voters.
Romney is followed by Paul (20 percent), Jon Huntsman (13 percent), Newt Gingrich (11 percent) and Rick Santorum (10 percent), while Rick Perry and Buddy Roemer combined for 3 percent with 12 percent undecided.
Could the debates over the weekend have hurt Romney more than initially expected? On Friday, the Suffolk tracking poll had Romney at 40 percent, which means most of the 10-point drop happened over the weekend.
Romney’s former supporters don’t seem to be flocking to any candidate in particular, but instead spreading out among the other candidates. Ron Paul and Newt Gingrich have gotten slight boosts (well within the margin of error) over the past few days. And Jon Huntsman has had a mini-surge, moving up five points in the polls to third place.
A smaller-than-expected margin of victory for Romney could undercut his appearance of inevitability, and help Gingrich and Santorum going into South Carolina. Unsurprisingly, Gingrich is doing his part to try to inflate expectations for Romney:
In an exclusive interview with The Brody File, Newt Gingrich says one of his goals is to, “keep Romney from being in the position to rush the nomination.” Gingrich told me, “The longer this goes on, the more clear it is how un-conservative his record is, the more difficult it will be for Romney to survive in this race.” Gingrich also told The Brody File that with regards to New Hampshire, “If he’s under 40% in one of his three strongest states, he has a big problem about trying to communicate why he should be the nominee.”
This is a little better than Gingrich’s last attempt, when he said that Romney should drop out of the race if he doesn’t win New Hampshire. There’s little doubt that Romney will win, but it sounds like he’s going to have a harder time cracking 40 percent than previously thought.