GOP Hopefuls Battle Ahead Of N.H. Primary

New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation primary is Tuesday. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has a commanding lead in polls, and Texas Rep. Ron Paul looks likely to finish second. But a tight race for third has developed among three of the remaining candidates — including former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum.

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We move now to the occupation of New Hampshire. For months, legions of political operators have been living and working there, hoping to boost their candidates' chances in tomorrow's first-in-the-nation presidential primary. Polls show the race tightening, but former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney still holds a commanding double-digit lead. The race is already tight among the remaining candidates. That includes former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, who skipped the Iowa caucuses and Rick Santorum, who finished there in a virtual tie with Romney.

NPR national political correspondent Don Gonyea has this look at the final full day of New Hampshire campaigning.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: People driving to work through downtown Manchester this morning were greeted by high school kids who bused in from New York state waving Newt Gingrich signs from street corners.

(SOUNDBITE OF KIDS YELLING VOTE FOR NEWT)

GONYEA: Nearby on Elm Street, a man stands alone holding up a sign. His name is Keith Murdack(ph). He's in his 50s. He works as a driver. He's wearing a suit with a Ron Paul pin holding his tie in place.

KEITH MURDACK: I'm out supporting Ron Paul. I like his views.

GONYEA: Cold morning, you're walking up and down the street with a - flying an American flag.

MURDACK: Oh, yeah. Yeah, I had to go put some more money in my meter. You only get two hours around here and you got to go back with some more so...

GONYEA: Are you cold?

MURDACK: Oh, I'm freezing, but it's only my feet that are frozen, really.

GONYEA: The candidates are holding events and squeezing in interviews. One man suddenly in great demand is Jon Huntsman. He's in third place now in recent New Hampshire polls after he completely ignored the Iowa caucuses. He made the noon news on local station WMUR today.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Jon Huntsman is also continuing his blitz across New Hampshire, doing his best to connect with as many voters as he can. He has events planned this afternoon in Dover...

GONYEA: Former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who is holding his own in the pack of candidates behind Mitt Romney, was in Manchester for an event where he said a vote for Romney is not a vote for a real conservative.

NEWT GINGRICH: You really think that President Obama can be defeated by somebody who is clearly decisively different as a Reagan conservative or do you think he could be better defeated by somebody whose own record as a Massachusetts moderate in fact...

GONYEA: Ron Paul, meanwhile, campaigned at a barn in Hollis.

RON PAUL: Those of us who believe that the market ought to work in protecting liberty is most important, they call us cold-hearted. But if their programs don't work and ours do, wouldn't it be logical to conclude that we are the true humanitarians, not them?

GONYEA: Meantime, Rick Santorum was out in Salem, where he wrestled with a bad sound system and bouts of feedback from the speakers attached to the ceiling. He drew a contrast between his vision of the country and that of President Obama.

RICK SANTORUM: It's not about income inequality. Certain people are going to make more money than other people. But the question is does everybody have a chance to move up, that's the key.

GONYEA: Santorum also warned audiences not to settle for Romney, though his momentum from Iowa seems to have slowed in New Hampshire, where Romney, meanwhile, is running like the clear frontrunner he is.

MITT ROMNEY: Thank you, Jack. Thank you.

GONYEA: In the town of Hudson today, Romney's focus remained on President Obama and the struggling economy.

ROMNEY: He set the bogey for himself. He said, look, I'm going to borrow $787 billion and I'm going to get the economy going and keep unemployment below 8 percent.

GONYEA: The latest daily tracking polling from Suffolk University shows that Romney still has a lead of 13 points. Analysts say that puts him in a pretty secure place with the vote now just one day away. Political scientist Dante Scala of the University of New Hampshire says it's made this year very different from four years ago, when the race was volatile and when Hillary Clinton beat Barack Obama after a hard-fought week on the ground.

DANTE SCALA: You know, what's different this year is the lack of excitement. I think there's been the sense that Mitt Romney is predestined to win New Hampshire and he's managed to pull off that impression without being accused of taking the state for granted.

GONYEA: But Scala says he'll find plenty to watch in the race for the slots behind Romney. Those contests are unpredictable and could determine the shape of the race in the coming states. Don Gonyea, NPR News, Manchester.

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