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Mitt Romney tops New Hampshire GOP straw poll. Does it mean anything?

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney won a GOP straw poll of state committee members on Saturday. But it's a year before the first-in-the-nation primary, and the presidential field is unsettled.

By Cheryl SullivanStaff writer / January 22, 2011

Former Massachussetts governor Mitt Romney speaks in Washington in this September file photo.

Jacquelyn Martin/AP

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Is Mitt Romney the man to beat in New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation GOP presidential primary next year?

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Signs are pointing that way. Mr. Romney handily won a straw poll of New Hampshire Republican State Committee members on Saturday – a temperature-taking that comes a full year before voters actually go to the polls. He also led, by a sizable margin, in a statewide poll of GOP voters and GOP-leaning independents, released Jan. 6 by the online news outlet NH Journal.

It’s early yet in the 2012 presidential race – so early that no GOP presidential aspirant has even officially thrown a hat in the ring. Though winning the New Hampshire primary is often a huge springboard into the rest of the nomination season, being tagged the front-runner this early in the game is a precarious position.

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For one, everyone else will be trying to knock Mr. No. 1 down a peg. And while front-runner status may attract donors and talented campaign staff, it also raises expectations for a positive outcome – and anything less than a definitive win will be counted as a crushing setback.

Hence, it’s almost a sure-fire thing that Romney will play down the outcome of Saturday’s nonbinding straw poll, in which 20 names were on the ballot (along with “other”). Conducted by ABC News and local WMUR-TV, the survey showed Romney with 35 percent, followed by Rep. Ron Paul of Texas at 11 percent, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty at 8 percent, 2008 vice-presidential nominee and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin at 7 percent, and Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota at 4 percent. (Is it coincidence that New Hampshirites picked mainly contenders from cold-weather states?)

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