Slips in N.H.
Ask Mitt Romney's aides about his poor performance in the national polls, and they will shrug the question off, pointing to the former Massachusetts governor's steady climb to the top of the polls in Iowa and New Hampshire.
Now, a new poll suggests that answer may not work as well in the days to come.
A University of New Hampshire/WMUR survey released Wednesday shows Romney's support among likely Republican primary voters falling by a significant 10 percent, leaving him with a one-point lead -- a virtual tie -- over former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani.
In the poll, Romney gets 23 percent of the GOP voters, down from 33 percent in the group's July poll. Giuliani's support grows from 18 percent to 22 percent and Ariz. Sen. John McCain, who won the state in the 2000 primary, gets 17 percent.
The results from one poll are hardly the final word, especially three months before the voting. But Romney's drop is a blow to his campaign's early-state strategy.
Romney has dumped more than $4 million into New Hampshire, according to calculations by other Republicans. That is more than any other GOP candidate. If his poll numbers continue to drop, those expenditures may be questioned.
Romney spokesman Kevin Madden dismissed questions about his candidate's viability in the state, saying that Romney remains well above his single-digit performance in polls taken six months ago.
"It confirms what we've always expected would emerge in New Hampshire, which is a close race," Madden said. "We feel like we're in a strong position."
But his rivals are nipping at his heels.
The financially struggling McCain, whose maverick appeal in New Hampshire created the biggest upset of then-candidate George Bush in 2000, will reportedly begin running television commercials in New Hampshire this weekend as he tours the state.
Meanwhile, some of Giuliani's positions make him appealing to independent voters, who make up 40 percent of the state's voters. The mayor has recently beefed up spending in the state with multiple campaign mailings, a bigger staff and some radio ads. But he has spent nowhere near the money Romney has.
Said Giuliani spokeswoman Maria Comella: "We aren't taking any vote for granted regardless of what the polls say. But it's clear that Mayor Giuliani is the proven candidate whose record of results and commitment to fiscal discipline has staying power."
--Michael D. Shear
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