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Feb 4, 2015 12:00 AM

NH1 Pulse Poll: Walker surges to top with Romney's exit; Bush second

NH1 Political Director - NH1.com

CONCORD - New Hampshire may have a new front-runner in the race for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.

The first survey conducted in the first-in-the-nation primary state since Mitt Romney's exit from the 2016 White House race indicates that Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker leads the pack of potential Republican presidential contenders.

According to an NH1 Pulse Poll released Wednesday, Walker has the backing of 21.2% of those who say they're likely to vote in next year's GOP presidential primary. The automated survey indicates Jeb Bush in second place, with 14.4% saying they'd support the former two-term Florida governor if the Feb. 9, 2016 primary was held now.

The poll was conducted Monday and Tuesday, after Romney's announcement last Friday that he wouldn't make a third run for the White House. The 2012 GOP nominee and former Massachusetts governor, who owns a vacation home along Lake Winnipesaukee, is very well known in New Hampshire and would have been the front-runner in the primary if he had launched a campaign.

A NH1 Pulse Poll conducted two weeks ago put Romney at 29% support, far ahead of the rest of the field. Bush was at 11% and Walker was at 8% in that same survey.

In his announcement, Romney said "I believe that one of our next generation of Republican leaders, one who may not be as well-known as I am today, one who has not yet taken their message across the country, one who is just getting started, may well emerge as being better able to defeat the Democrat nominee. In fact, I expect and hope that to be the case."

The poll suggests that Walker may possibly be that Republican leader. First elected governor in 2010 in a state that leans towards the Democrats, Walker became a national hero to many conservatives thanks to his high profile 2011-2012 battle against state public sector unions over collective bargaining rights.

The new poll comes as Walker's star is on the rise. His speech to conservative activists at the recent Iowa Freedom Summit was very well received and earned him national buzz. And this past weekend Walker was the top choice of GOP caucus-goers in a Des Moines Register/Bloomberg Politics poll in Iowa, the state that kicks off the presidential primary and caucus calendar. And Walker's coming to New Hampshire on March 14, his first visit to the Granite State in a couple of years.

After Walker and Bush, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky's third in the new survey, at 8.3%, with retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson right behind him at 8.2%. The survey indicates New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie at 7%, 2008 Republican presidential candidate and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee at 6.8%, and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida at 5.4%.

Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas is at 3.3% in the poll, with former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who didn't seek re-election after serving a record 14-years as governor, at 2.7%.

Former three-term New York Gov. George Pataki, who's meeting with voters in New Hampshire Wednesday, is at 2.2%, and former business executive Carly Fiorina's at 1.7%. Nearly 19% of those questioned said they were undecided or backing someone else.

The survey indicates a divide between registered Republicans and undeclared, or independents, who say they'll vote in the GOP primary. Walker's at 22.7% and Bush is at 15.6% among registered Republicans questioned. But among undeclared voters, Paul's on top at 16.9%, followed by Walker at 14.8% and Bush at 9.5%.

The recorded questionnaire could only fit 11 potential candidate names, with a 12th 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 are 2012 Republican presidential candidate and former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, and Govs. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, John Kasich of Ohio, and Mike Pence of Indiana.

The NH1 Pulse Poll was conducted Feb. 2 and 3, with 1,012 registered Republicans or independents who lean towards the GOP, who said there were likely to vote in the 2016 New Hampshire Republican presidential primary, questioned by telephone. The survey's sampling error was plus or minus 3.08 percentage points. The order of candidates listed on the questionnaire was rotated.

The poll was conducted by Reach Communications, a New Hampshire owned and operated survey and marketing firm run by two longtime GOP operatives who are not taking sides in the 2016 GOP nomination race.

For more coverage on the upcoming 2016 presidential election check out NH1's Political Pulse page.

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