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N.H. primary: candidates still vying for the 'anti-Romney' slot

With Mitt Romney comfortably leading in New Hampshire, the other Republican presidential hopefuls are angling for second place in the Granite State's primary. Newt Gingrich is experiencing a bit of a mini-surge.

By Staff writer / November 11, 2011

Republican presidential candidate, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich talks to New Hampshire State Rep. Joe Pitre during a campaign stop at the Circle Restauraunt, Friday, Nov. 11, in Epsom, N.H. Gingrich is experiencing a mini-surge in some polls.

Jim Cole/AP

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Nashua, NH

With two months left to go before the New Hampshire primary, a clear alternative to Mitt Romney has yet to emerge among the GOP candidates.

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“My instinct is to go with Romney, even though I don’t agree with all his issues,” says Ginny Robinson, preparing to march in the Veterans Day parade in Nashua, N.H., with her adopted dogs Daisy and Keene. But she’s saving all the campaign mail just in case someone else rises enough to make her think again.

If Romney can hold the roughly 40 percent of likely primary voters who favored him in polls here in mid-October, his rivals might find themselves hoping for a second-place finish, which could give voters in other states a reason to take a second look.

“I had thought that the not-Romney vote would consolidate … but I don’t see anybody putting together the kind of campaign that can defeat him [here],” says Fergus Cullen, former chairman of the New Hampshire Republican Party, who is unaligned in this race.

“The race is wide open for second, and second is a prize worth having,” he says. It would take only about 20 percent of the vote to earn second place, Mr. Cullen and others say. 

So who’s in the best position to vie for that spot – or even challenge Romney, as some believe is still possible?

Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the US House of Representatives, is one to watch, says Patrick Griffin, a senior fellow at St. Anselm College’s New Hampshire Institute for Politics and an unaligned GOP consultant.

“There’s a Newt boomlet going on right now ... and Gingrich can make a case that he is the alternative to Romney,” he says.

Gingrich only had about 6 percent of the support in mid-October polls here. But in a Nov. 9 poll of GOP influentials in New Hampshire, South Carolina, Iowa, and Florida, Gingrich came out first in several categories, including which candidate would best handle foreign policy, Obama’s health care law, and illegal immigration.

On the economy, 38 percent chose Romney, with Gingrich coming in second at 19 percent.

Nationally, a CBS poll out Friday shows Gingrich tying Romney for second place to Herman Cain – but 7 out of 10 said it was still too early to know their pick for sure.

Gingrich prompted a standing ovation Thursday night at a forum in Hampton, N.H., where he was joined by Rick Santorum, Gary Johnson, and Buddy Roemer. The crowd of 200 gathered by the tea party-leaning Granite State Liberty Patriots PAC rose and burst into loud applause when Gingrich said Obama’s biggest mistake was “not understanding which country he’s president of.”

Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman “has the best shot at second” in New Hampshire, Cullen says. Huntsman’s strategy seems to be “New Hampshire or bust.”

He’s made more than 100 visits to the state, and moved his headquarters here from Florida. Friday he was in New Hampshire attending a ceremony at a veterans cemetery, visiting staff and veterans at a business known nationally for its prosthetics technology, and holding a town hall meeting.

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