Voters in the northeastern state of New Hampshire are going to the polls in a crucial test for the six Republicans vying for the right to challenge President Barack Obama in November. The first-in-the-nation New Hampshire primary is historically significant for those seeking the White House.
On the eve of the primary, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney projected confidence.
“I love New Hampshire and I appreciate your willingness to welcome us here tonight and if I am president of the United States I will not forget New Hampshire," Romney said. "I will make sure that New Hampshire has a place in the White House if I am president of the United States.”
Watch New Hampshire voters discussing their choices:
Romney leads in all the polls here and a convincing victory in New Hampshire would bolster his frontrunner status for the Republican nomination.
But Romney has been put on the defensive about his background in business and sensitivity to workers being laid off, and some of his rivals are trying to take advantage.
Former Utah governor Jon Huntsman told NBC’s Today program that a good showing in New Hampshire would be a major boost for his campaign.
Delegate Rule Change Spurs Speculation About Republican Nomination Process
Political analysts are watching to see if a new Republican Party rule regarding the distribution of party delegates will affect the outcome of the nomination process in the 2012 presidential election.
Each state has a certain number of delegates to send to the Republican Party's National Convention in August. Their votes will officially nominate the candidate. But who they vote for is dictated by the primary or caucus results in their state.
New this year, the Republican Party says none of the early contests may allocate their delegates in a "winner-take-all" system.
Instead, the states may choose, like New Hampshire does, to allocate the delegates proportionally, some to each candidate based on the percentage of the vote they have earned.
That means that, if you place a close second in a primary, you could end up with a sizeable number of delegates behind you.
But some analysts say this rule change may not amount to much. Contests after April will not be affected at all.
Furthermore, the analysts note the rule allows many different variations of proportional allocation. Few of the early states will therefore need to change anything, since most already had some proportional system in place.
Perhaps most importantly, by the time the National Convention comes around in August, there will likely be only one candidate remaining. Most years, candidates begin dropping out of the race if they do not do well in the early contests - as Michelle Bachmann chose to do recently after after placing sixth in Iowa.
“If we can move out of New Hampshire with a head of steam we will prove the issue of electability, which is the one thing that will be on the minds of voters in South Carolina and beyond,” Huntsman said.
Huntsman won the vote of Sue, from Concord, who four years ago supported Barack Obama.
“I just want to see someone good in office. I actually voted for Barack [Obama] last time and I think he is struggling," she said. "He is really struggling and I feel bad because I liked his message. But voting is kind of hard because you do not know if they are going to be able to do it or not.”
Also doing well in the polls here is Texas Congressman Ron Paul, generally in second place behind Romney.
“It is the freedom state, you know, ‘Live Free or Die’ [state motto]. I mean I have got to do well here,” Paul said.
Paul had his supporters at a Concord polling station, including Brian Neal.
“I supported Ron Paul. I like his views," Neal said. "I think he runs a clean campaign and I think he is the person we need.”
But many other voters here remain undecided. Carol Conti is trying to decide between Romney and Huntsman.
“It is a global economy. I want America to be strong again and I think we need a strong person in the presidency,” Conti said.
A Romney win, following his narrow victory in Iowa last week, could give the former Massachusetts governor a huge advantage as the series of caucus and primary votes unfold across the country during the next few months.
Polls show Romney leading in the next two contests, South Carolina and Florida. But some of Romney’s conservative rivals like former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum, former U.S. House speaker Newt Gingrich, and Texas Governor Rick Perry are all hoping for a strong showing in South Carolina to slow Romney down.
Speaking Tuesday outside a polling station in the city of Manchester, presidential candidate and former congressman Newt Gingrich said voters will have to think twice about putting their support behind Romney if he continues to "misstate" his positions.
Click on each candidate's photo for a brief summary:
Texas Governor Rick Perry has held the top leadership position in one of the largest U.S. states since George W. Bush left the post to assume the U.S. presidency in 2000.
He pledges to reduce the size of the federal government. Perry's plan includes eliminating some federal agencies, such as the Departments of Commerce, Education, and Energy.
Perry is campaigning on economic policy, holding up his record in Texas as an example of how he could improve the national economy. He has been an outspoken opponent of the Obama administration's health care reform plan. He is a conservative Christian and has signed several state laws making it more difficult for a woman to obtain an abortion. He also supports the death penalty.
In 1988 he supported the unsuccessful Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore. Perry switched his affiliation to the Republican Party a year later.