By Jim Malone
In U.S. presidential politics, all eyes are on the northeastern state of New Hampshire, where six Republican White House hopefuls are competing in Tuesday’s presidential primary.
New Hampshire follows Iowa as the second test for presidential contenders hoping to win the White House, and five of the six Republican hopefuls are pushing their campaigns hard in the final hours before the vote.
The favorite here is former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, who is hoping to build on his narrow first-place showing in the Iowa caucuses with a decisive victory in New Hampshire.
Romney has been campaigning with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who is popular with conservative Republicans.
Correspondents Jim Malone and Carolyn Presutti preview the GOP primary voting in New Hampshire
Romney continues to target President Barack Obama more than his Republican rivals, as he did in a recent ABC television debate.
“This election is about the soul of America,” he said in Sunday’s nationally televised debate. The question is, what is America going to be? And we have in Washington today a president who has put America on the road to decline.”
Romney is well ahead in public opinion surveys in New Hampshire, and the real battle among his opponents seems to be for second and third place.
Texas Representative Ron Paul has strong support the Granite State, but he faces a challenge from former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, who nearly tied Romney in the Iowa caucuses.
But Paul says he is gaining on the front-runner. “Ron Paul is creeping up on Mitt Romney, and he has a solid second place,” he said.
Another factor is former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman. Huntsman has staked his entire campaign on a good showing in New Hampshire and says he hopes to draw support from undecided voters like Karen Heller of Manchester.
“I really, really, really like Huntsman,” said Keller. “But I am afraid I am throwing away my vote and I’m hoping today that I can fall in love with Ron Paul.”
Heller waited to meet Paul at a restaurant here, but Paul left after greeting only a few voters because his aides said the crush of media waiting for him was a distraction.
Former House of Representatives Speaker Newt Gingrich is also looking for a good showing in New Hampshire, after a disappointing finish in Iowa.
Gingrich told NBC television’s “Today” program that he would be a better conservative candidate than Mitt Romney.
“A Reagan conservative who is articulate and can debate effectively is much more likely to beat Obama than somebody who can’t defend their record,” said the former House Speaker.
Tom DeFrank, a veteran political reporter for the New York Daily News, says early presidential contests in Iowa and New Hampshire play an important role in choosing presidential nominees.
“They give a chance for somebody to jump out of the pack, as Rick Santorum has done,” he said.
From here, the presidential campaign heads to South Carolina and Florida. Romney had trouble in the South Carolina primary four years ago and conservatives might try to stop him again by rallying around candidates like Santorum, Gingrich or Texas Governor Rick Perry, who largely bypassed campaigning in New Hampshire.