NH1 Pulse Poll: Romney leads 2016 field, Bush second, Walker tied with Christie for third
CONCORD - Mitt Romney's the front runner in a new survey in the race for New Hampshire's 2016 Republican presidential primary, with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush a distant second.
But the biggest surprise in an NH1 Pulse Poll released Thursday is that Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is basically deadlocked with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, just behind Bush.
According to the automated poll, 29% of those questioned said if the Feb. 2016 primary were held now, they'd back Romney, the former Massachusetts governor who's very well known in the Granite State.
Bush, the brother and son of former presidents, was at 11%, with Christie and Walker at 8%, and Carson and Paul at 7%. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who ran for the 2008 Republican presidential nominee and who recently stepped down from his Fox News Channel program as he seriously considers another White House bid, was at 5%, with Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas at 4% and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida at the bottom, 3%.
Other than Romney, if you take into account the survey's sampling error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points, most of the other potential candidates are all tied up. Eighteen percent of respondents said they would back someone else or are unsure.
The survey, which was conducted Wednesday, questioned Republicans and independents who lean towards the GOP who say they are likely to vote in next year's first-in-the-nation primary. The poll appears to be the first to be released since Bush (in December) and Romney (earlier this month) said they were seriously considering running for the Republican nomination. Since those announcements, both men have taken some concrete steps towards launching campaigns.
NH key to any Romney bid
Romney owns a vacation home in Wolfeboro, and has spent lots of time in New Hampshire, not only campaigning for himself in the 2008 and 2012 cycles, but also for Granite State Republican candidates in the 2010 and 2014 elections. Romney came in second to Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the eventual GOP presidential nominee, in the 2008 primary. Romney easily won the 2012 primary (with Rand Paul's father, then-Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, a strong second), on his way to eventually capturing his party's nomination. But he lost New Hampshire by six-percentage points to President Barack Obama in the general election.
If he does launch a third presidential campaign, the Granite State will be crucial to his bid.
Romney talked about New Hampshire in a call a week and a half ago with Tom Rath.
"One thing he was extremely clear on was how significant New Hampshire would be in any effort that he was going to make. He basically said New Hampshire is key to this whole nomination process," Rath, a longtime New Hampshire based GOP consultant and senior adviser to Romney, told NH1 last week.
A leading Granite State political analyst agrees.
"I think he has to win New Hampshire because he won it last time. I think he has to win it again. If he didn't, it would show that he was not the candidate he was four years ago," said Neil Levesque, executive director of the New Hampshire Institute of Politics.
According to the poll, Romney had his best showing in Rockingham County (35%), which leans slightly towards the GOP, and Belknap County, where Romney owns his home along Lake Winnipesaukee. He had his worst showing in Grafton County (15%), where Bush (19%) and Christie (16%) slightly edged him out. Other than Grafton County, Bush's best showings were in Cheshire (18%) and Belknap County (14%).
Both Romney and Bush have strong name recognition, which is a major factor in most polling conducted this early in a presidential cycle.
One person who doesn't have much name recognition outside of Wisconsin is Walker, who finished at 8% in the survey. One possible factor for Walker's showing in the poll is that his name was offered first in the automated questionnaire. The order of names offered, following Walker, was Rubio, Bush, Romney, Christie, Huckabee, Paul, Carson, Cruz, and someone else/not sure.
Among the top contenders in the poll, the survey indicates there was virtually no divide among gender.
The recorded questionnaire could only fit nine candidate names, with a tenth option for unsure or someone not listed. With more than 20 people considering a run for the GOP nomination, many names were obviously left off. Among them were former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who earlier this week stepped down from office after serving a record 14 years. Perry ran for the White House in 2012, and is considering another run. He visited New Hampshire in mid-November, and is coming back again next month. Others not listed included another 2012 GOP presidential candidate, former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, who fought Romney deep into the primary calendar, and governors Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, John Kasich of Ohio and Mike Pence of Indiana, as well as former New York Gov. George Pataki, and former business executive Carly Fiorina.
The NH1 Pulse Poll was conducted January 21, with 827 registered Republicans or independents who lean toward the GOP, who said they were likely to vote in the 2016 New Hampshire Republican primary, questioned by telephone. The survey's sampling error was plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.
The survey was conducted by Reach Communications, a New Hampshire owned and operated survey and marketing firm run by two longtime GOP operatives who are neutral in 2016 Republican presidential battle.