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Can Rick Perry snatch the New Hampshire primary from Mitt Romney?

A new poll of likely voters in the New Hampshire GOP primary shows Mitt Romney at 36 percent, followed by Rick Perry at 18 percent. It was ‘a strong first showing’ for Mr. Perry, NH Journal said.

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But Perry, in fact, does not need to win the New Hampshire primary. He just needs to do well enough, probably second, and take the fight to more comfortable territory – South Carolina, whose primary follows New Hampshire’s.

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Andy Smith, director of polling at the University of New Hampshire, also attended Perry’s campaign event in Bedford, N.H., on Wednesday morning and agrees Perry wasn’t on his game. But, he adds, voters aren’t paying much attention yet, and won’t for quite some time.

Still, Perry faces two hurdles in New Hampshire.

“Perry is largely unknown here,” says Mr. Smith, whose latest survey (from early July) showed 42 percent of New Hampshire voters didn’t know who he was and an additional 9 percent didn’t know enough to state an opinion. “He has to do something to boost name recognition.”

The other hurdle, Smith says, is more fundamental. The New Hampshire Republican electorate has a more moderate tilt than, say, Iowa’s or South Carolina’s. He classifies about 60 percent of the state’s GOP voters as moderate, and Romney largely has that group to himself. (The other potential contender is former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, but he’s still polling in low single digits there.)

Perry is competing for the remaining 40 percent of the vote, but so are Representative Paul, Representative Bachmann, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, businessman Herman Cain, and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

Dante Scala, a political scientist at the University of New Hampshire in Durham, says it’s plausible Perry could do well in New Hampshire, but it could require a major time commitment.

“If he’s serious about making New Hampshire part of his equation, then something in the area of 25 to 30 percent [of the primary vote] is within reach,” Mr. Scala says. “That’s a scenario where it’s conceivable he could post a strong second, especially if Bachmann doesn’t move seriously into New Hampshire.”

The new Magellan survey found that Bachmann appeared not to get a bounce in New Hampshire from her victory in the Ames, Iowa, straw poll last Saturday. According to the survey, 84 percent of respondents said the straw poll had no impact on their decision on whom to support.

Bachmann also didn’t do herself any favors in the Granite State when she canceled a two-day visit after the straw poll and traveled instead to South Carolina.

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